Three Rivers 1.1

This short story is the first entry of Thirty Sims at Three Rivers.

  1. Clouds from the Pacific blow over the desert

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When Hank Merril got out of rehab, all he had to do was show up: show up for meetings, show up for work. But he didn’t want to show up. He wanted to be left alone.

They’d saved his spot for him at the science lab where he’d worked as a technician, but he didn’t want to go back. He couldn’t stand to face them after what had happened during his last few months there, that spiral down that had led him to get checked into Bright Days Recovery Center.

His caseworker helped him secure a rental and a job in a new town where he didn’t know anybody. Until he went to his first meeting, that is.

“So, then,” said his sponsor, “this is like a new start.”

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Hank didn’t like Johnny at first. All those shiny slogans: First things first. One day at a time. Easy does it. Keep the plug in the jug.

“It’s not easy for any of us,” Johnny said. “Life’s not easy. But then, it’s not always hard, either. And sometimes, when it’s easy, that’s when it’s the hardest.”

Hank chuckled. Maybe Johnny got it.

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“I’ll make you a deal,” Hank said. “I’ll show up. I’ll work the program. I won’t expect to be happy, and I’ll learn how to tolerate boredom. And in exchange, you think maybe I could get a little time alone, now and then?”

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“You know we don’t make deals,” Johnny said. “You got my number.”

When Hank showed up for his first shift as an orderly at Valley Hospital, he thought maybe it won’t be so bad. The lobby was empty, save for one of the doctors on duty and the receptionist.

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He just about lost it during his orientation, though.

“This is where we keep the prescription drugs,” Melody, the receptionist, said, showing him a locked door. “Only doctors and nurses have access, so, you know, you won’t need to…”

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By the end of the tour, Melody was joking with him. She led him back to the break room.

“It’s usually pretty quiet here,” she said. “This is where I escape to when it gets to be too much and I just need a minute to find my head. I’ll leave you here. You can start your duties after you’ve had your break.”

When she left the room, a wave of calm blew in. He listened to the song over the speaker: Neil Sedaka. That was ole-timey. It felt good, though.

He liked the neutral colors, too. Calm.

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Don’t get too happy, he told himself. Pleasure was a sharp knife–too intense and it just kicked in, and he had to have it.

Nothing too good–the chocolate pastry was just stale enough to work. Easy does it. First things first.

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The day was long and he was tired when he got home. He’d done it. The first day of thousands. One day at a time.

Maybe he should go to a meeting.

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He took a shower instead. Every slogan he’d told himself that day made him feel dirty.

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Show up. He washed it away.

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Work it. He let the water caress him.

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A new start. He felt warmth reach deep inside him.

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Hope was a dangerous thing: it broke his resolve. It made him soft. He wouldn’t hope. He’d just be there, in the downpour of the moment, suspended between pleasure and pain, hope and despair, slogans and truth. A razor ran between two poles, and he was gonna walk it.

He was gonna make it, right?

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Dr. Jasmine’s Casebook: The Apple Pie of Love

This story was written for the February 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!

This story is dedicated to all the lovely people who spend Valentine’s Day outside of a traditional romantic partnership.

Another Valentine’s Day, another morning of waking alone in a bed built for two.

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Kaylyn Beauchamp made the bed and stuffed her empty feelings. It had become a lonely tradition for her–perpetually single on the one day when the whole world blossomed for couples.

Why bother fixing breakfast when there was no one to prepare it for? She carried a bowl of potato chips into the dining room and sat alone at the long table.

Not once–not one single Valentine’s Day–had she had a lover, a boyfriend, a secret admirer, or even somebody she knew of who thought she was cute. And when she faced that day single, again, it felt like all the flirts that had drifted her way throughout the whole year amounted to a pile of thistle down to be carried off by the first gust of wind.

Kaylyn’s phone beeped, and she opened a text from Dr. Jasmine.

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Do what you love today, then come to my place in the afternoon.

Who knows what we will discover!

–Dr. J.


Another Valentine’s Day, alone. Myra Salmon inhaled the scent of the dark roast as she ground the coffee beans. The flavonoids never failed to stir romantic feelings. They must stimulate oxytocin, she thought. She’d have to research that later.

As she steamed the milk for her latte, she daydreamed that she was steaming enough for two. “I’ll be right there, Byron,” she said in her fantasy. Byron? Darwin. Doctor Darwin! Long dark brown hair, muscular, but not over-built. Oh! Maybe he should be a violinist. “I’ll be right there, Flavius. Put down your Stradivarius!”

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Someday, she would spend Valentine’s Day with her soulmate, waking him with breakfast in bed and kisses. But this year, it was café latte for one, once again.

She checked her texts. There was one from Dr. Jasmine!

Spend the day doing what I love? What do I love? she asked herself after reading Dr. Jasmine’s text, and she sat down with a romance novel while she sipped her latte.

feb01


Mariela Bean woke to bird songs winding through the open window.

“Is it spring already?” she asked the house finch, who was warbling as loudly as he could. Fluttering movement on the sidewalk caught her attention. Brown wings flapped, something jerked. She ran out to find the house finch’s mate, tangled in string still fastened to the trellis.

“Now don’t fuss,” she said, carefully holding the bird in her hand while she untangled the string. The tiny heart beat so fast against her palm, and the bird’s eyes flashed with concentrated terror.

“Shhh,” she said softly. “It’s all right. Help is here.”

She opened her palm and the finch flew to join her mate. They sang together in their undulating flight toward the woods behind her house.

“And I’m alone,” she said to herself, “during this season of love!”

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She looked at her phone and found Dr. Jasmine’s text.

c u ltr 🙂 she texted back with a smile.


Kaylyn washed the bowl that had held her chips and thought: a whole day devoted to doing just what I love!

Had she ever done that? Not since childhood!

She began with a morning run. The air was thick with the perfume of hollyhocks, dianthus, iris, and roses, and the early spring sun felt warm as it embraced her shoulders.

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She took a shower when she got back home, forgetting all about conserving water and lingering under the spray, warm as the touch of someone’s hands, while she felt loneliness wash away.

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While the late morning sun streamed through the windows, she worked on a Brahms interlude. Sometimes, when she played Brahms, she felt that he was speaking to her. He was a solitary soul! “Free but happy,” she thought, remembering the motto from his third symphony, three notes: F–A-flat–F, Frei aber froh, a retort to his friend, the violinist Joseph Joachim, whose own motto was “Free but lonely.”

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Is it possible that she could be free but happy, she wondered while she painted in the garden, surrounded with the heady perfume of flowers and the zipping buzz of hummingbirds in flight.

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Myra closed the romance novel she was reading and strolled to the park behind her house, where she was sure to run into one of her friends.

“Darcy!” she called, when she spotted her friend in the picnic area.

“Oh, God,” groaned Darcy. “What a day!”

“What’s up, Darce?”

“It’s the Hallmark conspiracy. Can you believe it? One more day, like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Halloween, and Christmas, designed by the capitalist conglomeration to get us to buy their stupid cards, order their stupid floral displays, buy more candy so we can get fatter and stupider so we will buy more cards on the next official capitalist holiday. What a crock of pork rind, if you ask me.”

“No one to spend Valentine’s Day with?” Myra asked.

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Darcy groaned.

“Look,” Myra said, “Come have supper with me! I’m going over to a friend’s this afternoon, but I’ll be home by seven. We can eat veggie stir-fry and watch movies!”

“So you’re not getting dragged down with all this romantic hoopla?” Darcy asked.

“Maybe I was,” said Myra. “But I’m sure I won’t be alone forever! I know that somewhere out there, there’s a guy, waiting for me, my soulmate. And even though I haven’t met him yet, I know I will. And so, rather than wasting time now, being sad and forlorn and missing somebody I haven’t even met yet, I’m going to live full and happy and for me, so that when I do meet him, I will have already have learned how to be happy.”

“Oh my God,” said Darcy. “You’re serious! You really believe this crap!”

“I do,” laughed Myra. “I guess I believe in a big benevolent universe, and that our dreams will come true, and, if there really is someone for us, we’ll find that person, and until then, we owe it to ourselves, and to them, to become the best person that we can, so that when we meet them, we are awesome.”

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“Oh, dear!” sighed Darcy. “You really are a romantic!”


Mariela had a hard time concentrating on The Natural History of Big Basin State Park. The mockingbird outside sang so loudly that her attention wandered.

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She remembered a conversation she’d had with Dr. Jasmine.

“I’m just not sure I’m capable of love,” Mariela had said. “I don’t have all those mushy feelings.”

“Oh,” replied Dr. Jasmine, “love is so much more than mushy feelings! Love is what gives us the energy to do something for someone else! And I know you, Mariela. You are always doing things for others–even if those others are dragonflies and butterflies!”

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Mariela hadn’t agreed. It was hard to agree–or disagree-with a statement you didn’t completely understand. Recalling Dr. Jasmine’s words led her to wonder if the butterflies were back yet. The last week had been warm–maybe they’d returned from Mexico and were hovering about the wildflowers in the park!

She didn’t see any monarchs or Pacific blues in the park, but she did find a little boy there with clenched fists and a worried expression.

“Is everything OK?” she asked him.

“It’s got to be someplace!” he said, and his brow crinkled as if he were about to cry. “My piano teacher’s house. I can’t find it.”

“Is it in this neighborhood?” she asked.

“Yes! It’s not a big house and it’s not a little house but it’s next to a big house and next to a little house and I thought it was on that street over there but it’s not and now I don’t know where it is and I’ll be late!”

“Don’t worry,” Mariela said. “We’ll find it. What’s your piano teacher’s name?”

“I can’t remember,” he said. “It’s like something that you drink, but it’s not coffee.”

“Tea?” asked Mariela. “Is your piano teacher Ms. Tea?”

“Yes!” said the boy. “Do you know where she lives?”

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“Why, she lives right down this street,” said Mariela, and she walked the boy to his piano lesson.


At four o’clock, the three women gathered at the home of Dr. Jasmine. They sat on the porch and ate apple pie and drank Darjeeling tea.

“How was your day, my dears?” asked Dr. Jasmine. “Tell us all about it. What did you learn? What did you discover?”

“I finished a painting,” said Kaylyn.

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“I hung out with a friend,” said Myra. “She’s coming over tonight to watch movies with me.”

“I didn’t do anything,” said Mariela.”What about you, Dr. J.? What did you do?”

“Oh, I baked an apple pie.” Dr. Jasmine smiled.

“Have you ever been in love, Dr. Jasmine?” Kaylyn asked.

“Most mornings, when I wake up,” replied Dr. Jasmine, “I see the sunlight dancing off the leaves of the live oak tree outside my window, and from my heart wells up, ‘Thank you.’ What else is this feeling, but the feeling of being in love?”

“Isn’t it just gratitude?” asked Mariela.

“No,” said Dr. Jasmine. “I feel giddy and happy and full of bliss! It’s the feeling of being in love, I am just sure.”

“And who are you in love with?” asked Myra.

“With the sunlight. With the universe. With life!” said Dr. Jasmine, dishing up seconds of apple pie for each of them. “What about you girls? What are you in love with? Did you discover it today?”

No one answered her question, but they all three sipped their tea, and ate their apple pie, and soon they fell into the relaxed conversation that happy friends share at the end of a long rich day when the sun begins to spin its last gold and the heart is full of the song of sweet life, free but happy.

New World Symphony: Walk to Town

Jade was running J. P.’s  store when onezero stopped by.

“Do you need more paintings?” onez asked.

“Excuse me?” replied Jade.

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“You know,” said onez. “Paintings. Like what you hang on the wall. This is an art gallery, right?”

Cypress came in, followed by Aunt Sugar. Cypress headed straight for the gnomes. Another one would look great in the garden!

“Hey, Jade,” Sugar said over her shoulder. “I see you’re meeting one of the other family artists!”

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Jade joined onezero outside. “So you’re the famous onezero!” she said. “Sorry I didn’t recognize you in there!”

“That’s ok!” said onez. “I forgot we hadn’t met! So do you need more paintings?”

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Jade quickly texted J. P., who was taking a much-needed day off.

“That’d be great,” Jade said when she received J. P.’s answer. “We’ve got some easels upstairs. Knock yourself out!”

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The light upstairs was rich and warm. Besides a trip to Granite Falls, onez hadn’t spent much time anywhere but the high desert of Cradle Rock, so the soft blues, pinks, and greens of her palette felt luscious on her brush. Her first landscape was a masterpiece.

And so was her second, a painting of J. P.’s home.

I really like the angle of the sidewalk, thought onezero. I know it breaks rules of composition, but that’s what makes it so neat.

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In the golden hour, she painted a study of the planter against the brick building.

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As she finished her third painting, she stopped and listened for a moment. Then, she marched right downstairs.

“Grrrr,” she said to Raerei.

“Grrrrowl!” said Raerei back.

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“Hi! You’re here!” onezero said.

“You make a great bear,” said Rae.

“Why weren’t you here when I got here?” onezero asked.

“It was Jade’s turn to open. But I’m here now,” Rae replied.

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“I’m hungry,” said onezero.

When she walked back up to J. P.’s apartment above the gallery, she saw that the light was turning rosy purple. It looks like home, she thought. Not Cradle Rock, but that other home where I’ve never been.

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“Why is the air different?” she asked Raerei, when Raerei came up to make sure there was fresh milk in the fridge for onez’ cereal.

“I think it has to do with temperature, humidity, and the position of the jet stream,” said Raerei.

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“This is vanilla sky,” said onezero. “It’s sweet and rich and golden.”

“Like pudding!” laughed Rae.

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onezero felt sleepy after her snack. It takes a lot of creative energy to paint two landscapes and a study! J. P. had decorated the bedroom in black, so that he’d be able to sleep soundly even if he snuck upstairs for a catnap.

The room felt restful and comforting to onezero. She hadn’t spent many nights away from Cradle Rock. But it still felt like home, for it had her nephew’s energy.

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While she slept, the customers downstairs had a run on gnomes. Jade and Raerei were busy ringing up everyone.

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The store was still open when onezero woke a few hours before dawn. She caught a glimpse of Grim gliding down the sidewalk on his black plume of smoke. Perfect subject for her next painting!

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The canvas didn’t match her vision–too dark, too pixelated. It was mysterious, though.

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Why can’t I always paint masterpieces? onezero wondered while she refreshed herself with a mint chocolate chip ice cream cone. Maybe it’s vision, she thought. Sometimes I see with my third eye, and sometimes just with my two.

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“We’re about to close!” Raerei said downstairs. “Last chance for a ring up!”

And Sugar found one more painting that she wanted to buy.

“Didn’t you paint this one?” Rae asked.

“No,” replied Sugar. “My nephew did.”

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When Sugar went upstairs to say goodbye to onezero, she found Grim telling stories of his adventures to Yuki and onezero.

“You’ll never guess some of the places where I’ve had to show up to collect souls!” he said.

“Not sure I need to know,” mumbled Yuki.

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Morning came, and the last of the customers left.

onezero found JRose finishing up her morning jog. They sat together for a while and caught up.

“How’s life now that the legacy is complete?” JRose asked.

“Like it was before,” said onezero, “only now everyone floats through time, not just me and Sugar.”

When it was time for JRose to leave, onezero realized she wanted to head home, too.

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This was fun, she thought, a night of adventure at the gallery. And now, I get to go home to Cradle Rock. The best part of going away is coming home again!

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New World Symphony: Walk With Me

Ren woke with the tickle of an idea. She and Sugar had been talking about wedding plans. They’d drawn up a few guest lists, considered venues (home was nice, but then so was Cypress and Knox’s garden), and had even begun to sample cake recipes. While tasting strawberry, chocolate, marzipan, and vanilla was fun, they both liked Shug’s sugar-free carob cake best of all.

That morning, Ren’s inspiration was to scrap it all and get married right then and there, with only their own private garden as witness.

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“I’ll beat you there!” Sugar joked as soon as Ren shared her idea.

The morning felt new, with that soft coolness that lingers before the sun drinks the dew.

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They met beneath the lemon tree. The flowers perfumed the air and a chorus of sparrows sang from the hedgerows.

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They shared words intended for only the two of them to hear.

Sugar surprised Ren with a ring that captured all the brightness that she felt whenever she looked at Ren.

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And, just like that, they were married.

They sat together at the poolside in the mid-morning sun, savoring their first moments as wives. They felt so much to be thankful for.

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“So shall we tell everybody?” Ren asked.

“Of course!” said Sugar. “I can’t keep my happiness a secret much longer!”

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They quickly got dressed and ran out to the path behind their house to tell the first people they saw, who happened to be Jaclyn Ball and Sugar’s nephew-in-law Knox McRae.

“Guess how we spent the morning?” Sugar said.

“We got married!” said Ren. And everybody clapped.

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“It’s a fine morning for a wedding,” said Jaclyn, as butterflies hovered around her.

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As soon as they got back to the house, Sugar received a congratulatory text from Redbud. Won’t be long before the news has spread to everyone, Sugar thought.

“Let’s celebrate!” Ren said.

So Sugar invited over all the family and as many friends as they thought could fit in their small house.

“Yeah!” said Sugar when she called to hire Cathy Tea as the caterer, “we’re skipping the boring part and just jumping right to the fun!”

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The romance of an elopement felt contagious to Cypress.

“I remember when Knox and I eloped,” she said. “We just got married right there in the garden, just the two of us!”

Sugar laughed. “Same here. Under a lemon tree, right?”

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Kit Dragonflight found it all so romantic–all these patterns that keep tracing through the family. Garden weddings, big parties, so much to love!

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While Raerei and Eddie joined the dancing in the bungalow, Ren and Sugar found each other circling their own universe.

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By the time their kiss ended, the room had emptied out and they were alone with the romantic songs playing on the stereo.

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“Hey, Eddie! Hi, Raerei!” called Miss Penguin in the main house. “Great party, right?”

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It was a great party. All the family was there, and so many friends.

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Ren looked over at Redbud, onezero, Nathanael, J. P., and Cypress, all dancing and laughing together. This was her family now, too! There was Sean Parodi, Ninja, Kit, Miss Penguin, and Rae–the family friends.

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As the party continued, guests began to drift off alone or in pairs, the way people do when wanting moments to reflect or to find deeper connections.

Jaclyn had volunteered to be the mixologist to make sure that the drinks contained a sprinkling of magic, and onezero was drawn to her. They didn’t speak any words, but they shared the connection that those with otherworldly ancestors exchange with each other.

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Inside, Miss Penguin and Sugar sat together in the bedroom.

“You seem so happy!” Miss Penguin said. “It’s almost like you’ve been waiting all your life for this!”

“Thank you,” said Sugar. “Life feels very ripe!”

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As evening settled, Cypress found solitude by the pool. There’s happiness and there’s joy, she thought. Happiness makes you run around and laugh, but joy’s deeper. It’s contains stillness.

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With her catering duties finished, Cathy Tea followed the sounds of the Goldberg Variations out to the garden patio, where Mesquite had begun the final aria.

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“Ready to go?” Nathanael asked onez, interrupting her and Jaclyn’s wordless exchange. Their farewells were wordless, too.

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After the guests left, the house and garden still felt abuzz with the party energy. Ren and Sugar wandered through the lot gathering the dirty dishes which had been left everywhere!

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Collecting the post-party dishes was a ritual Sugar observed fondly. It provides a moment for transition, she thought, a relaxing task to move from party-mode back into the quiet domestic scene.

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Sugar loved their kitchen–she’d made friends with the wood-burning stove and the old sink. Simple is sometimes better, she thought, washing the dishes by hand.

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Ren fell asleep, settling into the quiet while all the events of the day found their places within her. She had a new wife, a new family, and so many friends. And here, in the quiet of the night, she was still herself, still Ren.

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Sugar took her pink guitar out to the bungalow so as not to disturb Ren’s sleep, and there she played all the sounds and songs of the day, letting the music bring to her the integration that dreams brought Ren.

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New World Symphony: Walk On In

The small emporium was for sale–stock and all. This was a godsend for J.P., since recent zoning changes prevented him from setting up shop in the abandoned gallery across the street that he’d reclaimed for his residence. He’d planned on living above the gallery, but when he went for his business permit, they informed him that since that was his primary residence, he couldn’t open retail space there.

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The place across the street would work, though. It, too, had a shop-owner’s apartment above the store.

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The apartment had been used for storage by the previous owners, but a few cans of paint, some new kitchen appliances, some garage-sale furniture, and it would be cozy enough for breaks and on those long days when J. P. felt too tired to walk across the street to his “primary residence.”

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After a few days of hard work getting the upstairs apartment ready, hanging the art, and dusting off the old stock, J. P. was ready for the opening.

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He combed down his Mohawk and tied it back into a bun. No need to risk poking customers with big spiky green hair, he figured, just in case the store got crowded.

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He powered on the Open sign, sent out a few tweets, updated the Simbook page, hired a barista for the espresso bar out front, and he was ready. The Family Gallery was open.

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Cathy Tea, who took the opening shift at the espresso counter, was there to welcome the first customers, Grim and a neighbor.

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Sugar, the third one through the door, wondered what kind of omen it to have Grim as a first customer.

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It would be all right, she figured. This was art that transcended time, space, and generations.

“It’s beautiful, J.P.,” she said. “The selection of work, the installations, everything!”

“Thanks, Aunt Shug,” he replied. “I’m really glad you like it.” It was all the family’s work displayed around them, a few generations of brilliance.

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J. P. found himself standing in a circle of customers, as if they expected him to say a few words. It was the opening, after all, he realized. He hadn’t prepared a speech.

“I come from a family of artists,” he said. “Growing up with them, I realized soon it wasn’t just artistic talent that made them artists. It was vision, a way of living. We kept all their work–that is, what we didn’t sell– down in a basement, that hardly anybody ever saw.”

“I’ve seen it,” said Grim in his rumbling bass.

“True. I should’ve said, ‘hardly any living soul ever saw.'”

“That’d be more accurate,” Grim said.

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“Anyway,” J. P. continued, “I always figured that it would be nice to share this work. Why not make copies to sell to the world, so everybody can have their own Bough print on the wall?  I’m hoping some of the magic, some of the special way of viewing life and of living, that my family has will come through these paintings.”

Cypress arrived just as her brother was winding up the speech. She felt so proud seeing her aunts’, parents’, and grandparents’ work displayed.

“Not a bad legacy,” said her friend Grim.

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Soon Sharon Pope called over to J. P. “Can you ring me up?”

He grabbed his tablet and headed over to complete the first sale.

“I’ve been looking all over for these gnomes,” Sharon said.

J. P. had to stifle a snicker. He’d kept the old merchandise as a joke, a hat tip to the store that had been here before, and he hardly expected anyone to purchase these trinkets.

One man’s junk, he thought, as he rang up Sharon’s treasure.

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“I really want this squirrel,” Grim said.

J. P. was just about to ask where Grim would hang it, when he decided better. No need to put a customer on the defensive. “I’m glad this squirrel will be finding a good home,” he almost said. But at the last minute, he simply thanked Grim for his purchase and rang up the sale.

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“I’ve always wanted to see your work displayed,” Miss Penguin said to Sugar. “I’ll keep these in mind for upcoming design jobs!”

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Cypress decided that one of the gnomes would look great in their garden. It took so long for J. P. to finish Grim’s sale that she just about left her purchase for another day, when J. P. ran over.

“I’m so sorry, Cyp,” he said. “That was the weirdest sale. Look, just take the gnome. It’ll look great in your garden.”

But Cypress insisted on buying.

“I want to be one of your first customers,” she said. “Please?”

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Sugar also wanted to be one of the opening day customers.

“But you painted this painting, Aunt Sugar,” J. P. said.

“Yeah, but this is a print! We can keep the original in the basement, but I want a print for Ren. She loves this painting, and it’ll look great in our kitchen.”

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The store was still packed with customers after midnight. J. P. barely had energy to stand. It had been a great opening day, but he was simply beat. Hungry, too, and his deodorant was starting to wear off.

“I stink,” he said, as he made his way up to the apartment.

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The next morning, he woke feeling starving, but enthusiastic. The apartment felt even better than a second home. It was a cheerful, cozy, and restful sanctuary.

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He spent the morning restocking items. Maybe he’d leave the place closed this day and use the time to complete the inventory.

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But when he checked his twitter account, he found that his tweets had been retweeted, and people were asking about hours and new shows and wanting to find out when they could buy their own Bough.

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Sales had been so good the first day that he hired a manager. Rae Rei showed up, along with Miss Penguin as the day’s barista.

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“Rae,” he said, “I’ve been looking over your resume, and I’m lucky to hire you. You just do whatever you think we need to make this place run smoothly.”

“Tell you what,” Rae said, “if you’re open to listening to ideas, I’ll be open to sharing them!”

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Cypress came back again.

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“This is such a cool store,” she told her brother.

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Most of the same customers had returned, and they were all looking to buy.

Rae and J. P. ran into some confusion with ringing up sales. Did she have that customer, or was he waiting for J. P.?

“Tomorrow, let’s have one of us stock and the other handle sales,” Rae suggested.

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At the end of the second day, J. P. was as tired as he had been the night before when he finally made his way up to the apartment. But he was also a lot happier. He remembered what Rae had told him: “We learn by doing, J. P. We can’t expect ourselves to be master merchants instantly. But we’ll get there! We’re smart! And we’re a team.”

He loved his team: baristas, sales manager, and all. And he loved his customers, too: family, friends, and the friends he hadn’t yet met.

Running a store might not be as fun as just hanging out all day, but dang! It sure felt satisfying, especially when he got to share his family’s work with the world.

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New World Symphony: Slow Walk

Moonlight is best for planting. The garden started with a wild onion seed that Cypress and Knox had collected in Granite Falls. That was the day that Knox had proposed. Cypress smiled to think that they’d remember that day with an onion!

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Knox planted potatoes and a few herb and flower seeds they’d gathered that day, too. They lined the garden beds with old stone fragments they’d found from the side of the property.

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Knox built two birdhouses before he and his small family had a house of their own.

“It’s looking even better than I imagined,” Cypress said.

“It feels like ours, doesn’t it?” Knox said.

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They were happy living in the meadow, all three of them.

The baby seemed to love the outdoors as much as her parents. She never cried, and as long as Mom or Dad were there to sing to her and feed her, she was happy to spend her days watching butterflies, dragonflies, and bees, and her nights watching the dancing golden lights that hovered over the meadows.

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They measured their days by the growth of the plants. Before long, wild flowers lined the stone fragments circling the garden.

“Think we can live this way forever?” Cypress asked Knox.

“Doesn’t matter!” he replied. “Let’s enjoy it for now and let it all grow from there.”

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At night, while the baby slept, Cypress loved to play her violin in the garden. She’d heard that the plants loved music, and though she knew her intonation could still use a bit of work, Knox assured her that if he loved it, all the growing things would love it, too!

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When the neighbors realized that this tent dwelling seemed to be becoming a permanent installation at the Dresden House Estate, they stopped by to welcome them.

“And then once you get your permit, you’ll being building, is that right, Mrs. McRae?” Maaike Haas asked.

“It’s Cypress. Cypress Bough,” she replied. “And we don’t have any building plans as of yet, actually.”

“You do know that this is where Dresden House stood, don’t you?” Gunther Munch said. “To think of all the art masterpieces lost in that fire. And the books! Entire libraries. Shame to think that now it’s just a barren meadow.”

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Ulrike Faust looked towards the garden.

“Hardly barren, Gunther,” she said. “And what’s better? A painting of a field of flowers or the actual field itself?”

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When Cypress and Knox walked through their garden, they felt it was plenty.

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There was room to grow! New beds to be planted, new paths to be spread, new seeds to gather and sow.

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“You’ve got a great place here,” Sabreene said one evening as she walked past on her way to the waterfall trail.

“Thanks,” said Cypress. “Have you seen the flock of rock doves that forage in the field?”

And they talked about birds for a while, until Sabreene continued her hike, and Cypress went to feed the baby.

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As the garden began to take less time, Cypress remembered her dream of a club for gardeners.

“Let’s combine it with something health-oriented,” Knox said. “Yoga, meditation. That sort of thing.”

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They called their club “Greenies” and invited all those who love the outdoors.

Cathy Tea, Shannon SimsFan and her husband John, and their neighbor Jaclyn Ball all joined.

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“So, what’s the plan with this club?” Cathy asked Cypress.

“Oh, I haven’t really been planning it much,” Cypress replied. “It’s in response to this dream I had back when I was a kid living in the high desert. I just wanted to get together with other gardeners and talk about gardens. Then McRae wanted to add a health component.”

“That’s awesome!” Cathy said. “I can really get behind that! All things Wellness!”

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In the evening, John and Knox sat at the meditation circle at the edge of the meadow. They could hear the waterfall and feel the cool spray drift down the hill.

Knox felt a continuity spread through his life, from his days as a ranger in Granite Falls, through the time that he and Cypress spent in the high desert at Cradle Rock, and now, here, in this big meadow that had become home to his small family, the place where he welcomed his new friends.

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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?”

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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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