“This is a stupid book!” Ethan slammed his pencil down on the table.
“Why?” I asked.
“What do you mean?” he frowned, and crossed his arms. “I just told you… it’s stupid.”
“Tell me why it’s stupid,” I probed.
Ethan grunted and slouched in his chair before he braced his hands on the edge of the table and rocked back and forth.
“The title for starters…” he scoffed. “Who names a book Love in the Time of Simfluenza? I mean, can you get any more retarded?”
I sighed. Clearly the teenager had no respect for the power of Mexsimican literature. While my pupil was cringing and frowning over his notebook, I had grabbed a stack of magazines from circulation and was idly flipping through the pages while sipping my tea. This was our third session this week, and Ethan wasn’t many any progress on his essay for his grammar and composition class. He was also behind on his literature response journals by about two weeks, hence the additional sessions. Mr. Tanner, my boss, was paying me more money to work with his son but I couldn’t seem to get the fifteen-year-old to focus. I was becoming accustomed to the musty smell of long-forgotten dust-enshrouded literature in the study room at the Grand Canyon Community Library.
“Gabriel Simcia Marquez had a perfectly good reason to name it that,” I argued. “In fact, it’s quite poetic, I think.”
“Why?” Ethan quit his rocking and rested his elbows on the table.” Because some guy… the main character is…” he used mocking air quotes. “…’sick with love?'”
“Florentino Ariza, not just some guy…” I corrected. “And it’s more than that. The author is making a statement about all love and its power over us.”
“He goofed around with so many women. If he loved her, he would’ve stayed faithful,” Ethan remarked with surprising insight.
“If that’s your opinion, write about it,” I said, quirking a brow.
“What about tossing around the football with me for a bit outside?” he grinned. “As incentive… you know… to get the blood flowing?”
“Not until you finish your outline and write at least two paragraphs,” I bargained.
Ethan scowled and resumed his defensive posture, crossing his arms. “Guess he didn’t really love her.”
“Why do you say that?” I leaned forward encouraging him to follow his train of thought.
“You don’t mess around with other women if you want one woman,” he said seriously. “I know that. Everyone knows that. I don’t care what kind of pain the bastard was feeling. Then in the end, he dooms her to a life aboard a ship stuck with him because everyone thinks there’s a simfluenza outbreak and won’t let them dock.”
“Ah! But remember they have renewed their love at this point and they are both old,” I added.
“Still, he treated her like crap. He stuck himself in every woman he could get his hands on, and one even kills herself over it, but he still professes his undying love to Simmina after all this time… at her husband’s funeral to boot,” Ethan kicked the table leg with his football cleat.
“So what does that say about love?”
“It’s not real.”
“Everyone lied about this book being about love.”
I stood up and rubbed my chin thoughtfully as I started pacing. “Okay, now you have a theory, build on it.”
“Talk about how you feel Florentino’s love isn’t real. Give me examples.”
“The guy is dangerous and compulsive and uses women to mask the fact that he isn’t getting lovin’ from the woman he wants.”
“What’s so wrong about that?”
Ethan’s eyes grew wide. “Really? You don’t take issue with it?”
“This isn’t about my personal opinion,” I shook my head, sitting down again across the table from Ethan. “Regardless of what I think, it’s about what you think. This is your essay. Not mine.”
“It’s about…” Ethan scratched his head. “…oh I don’t know.”
“I think you do,” I encouraged, and thought for a moment before continuing. “Think about it this way. Say you and your buddies are playing football out on the field. And say you’ve never won a single game.”
Ethan snorted a laugh. “Like that would ever happen.”
“Just roll with it for a moment. Say you’ve never won a single game, and every Friday night you go home defeated and dejected. You might make some stupid decisions because you feel lousy about losing. You might try things you wouldn’t normally to make up for feeling bad. But you know you’ll still get back out on that field and play because you want to win and you want to win badly,” I said, hoping the analogy would help my student. “Now say you had the opportunity to finally win, to finally hold that trophy in your hand, what would you do for it?”
“I suppose anything,” he shrugged.
“Yes, and the only way to keep the other team or anyone else from having that trophy ever again was to win it for yourself and then never let go of it,” I continued. “Even if it meant cheating to keep it.”
“So…” Ethan leaned forward. “Florentino essentially ‘cheated’ to keep the woman he wanted by putting up that yellow flag and keeping Simmina from ever leaving him again.”
I smiled. “Well and to protect her reputation since she was worried about what others would think if they knew who she was with. You can write about whether you think that’s wrong or right, but you have something to write about now.”
“Yeah, he was one who was the one who made himself sick. He didn’t have to, but he did it anyway,” Ethan remarked as he scribbled down a few notes. “Why?”
“Ah, the things we do for love!” a voice interrupted our discussion.
I jerked my head around and noticed we were no longer alone. Billy Caspian had joined us. His presence alone should’ve irked me, but I suddenly was feeling very warm and disconcerted.
“You again,” Ethan said, coldly, as he pushed back his chair. “Do you want me to get him to go away?”
“No,” I sighed, taking a deep breath. “I’ll handle it.”
“Hello Kass,” Billy said, offering a suave smile. “I see you’re studying Gabriel Simcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Simfluenza. Intriguing read.”
He slid into the seat across from me. I picked up my pencil and tucked a stray hair behind my head, frowning. Sliding my stack of magazines across the table, I looked down to read, trying to avoid direct eye contact.
“Yes, and we’re very busy studying and writing notes. If you don’t mind excusing us…”
“He’s writing notes. You’re…uh…” Billy leaned forward, glancing at my magazines. “…reading about Jessica Simpson and Nick Simshay…” his eyes snapped back up and stared in a completely disarming way. “I didn’t know you cared about the latest celebrity gossip.”
I winced. “I am reading about…” I flipped the pages, desperately trying to find something I would actually read. “…crime…” I decided quickly, settling on a page with a bold title. “I mean, with a headline like Wanted, who wouldn’t want to read? I was reading this earlier wasn’t I, Ethan?”
The boy just gave me a weird look and erased something from his page. Billy nearly smirked as he leaned forward perusing the page I was supposedly reading.
“Do I detect sarcasm there, Kass?” he said, and leaned back in his chair with a look of smug satisfaction.
“What?” I snipped. “What is it? I can read all day about wanted criminals, can’t I? It’s not a crime, right?”
I hated myself for the stupid choice of phrases.
“Sure, you can read about wanted criminals, but you might want to try the crime section of the newspapers or tabloids or pick a biography about robber barons or something.”
“Why?” I narrowed my eyes.
“Because I highly doubt you’re reading about criminals given the…” he looked down and tapped the page. “…article talks about profitable real estate in the Simirribbean Islands. And you’re reading upside down.” He leaned across the table, his fingers dangerously close to brushing mine, and said in a low, seductive tone, “You know wanted has more than one meaning.”
He said it as a statement, but I felt like there was so much more behind his eight electrifying words. I flushed. Billy could be so unnerving. His eyes sparkled in the dim light of the library, and he offered a charming smile revealing dimples in his cheeks. I coughed and looked away. Pull it together, Kass.
“Relax,” Billy said, soothingly. “You’re cute when you’re nervous. I brought you something if it’ll distract you.”
He placed a simple white vase with striking red Simharan star clusters on the table. I sat and stared at the porcelain vase in semi-shock and surprise. I made a face. Why did he bring me flowers? I decided to let him speak first.
“I want to be with you, Kass…” he said, his voice low and soft.
Ethan looked up at this remark and grimaced. “Could you two lovebirds take this elsewhere?”
“Um…” I swallowed hard.
“I want to pursue a friendship with you,” Billy continued, ignoring the teenager at the table. “And I want more than that. I want to make it up to you. I didn’t do things right before, but I want to this time if you’ll let me.”
“Why star clusters?” I asked, trying to keep my tone neutral and unaffected.
Billy merely smiled as he stood up, walked over, and laid a hand on my shoulder. He leaned down as if about to whisper something, and I closed my eyes instinctively in breathless anticipation as I inhaled the familiar fruity scents of citrus notes.
“That’s for you to discover.”
I shivered, pleasantly as he walked away, feeling my whole body tingling from the sensation of that delicious man I shared a brief, rich flurry of romance with – only a few weeks before. Ethan’s scoff brought my head back out of the metaphorical clouds enveloping my senses.
“Wow! That man’s got game,” Ethan said sarcastically.
“Uh… yeah… well…” I cleared my throat, shaking my head to bring my focus back to reality. “We should probably break for tonight.”
“Are you going to chase him?”
I choked back a cough. “Absolutely not!”
“Good,” Ethan closed his books. “You’re too good for a player like that.”
I almost said something in defense of Billy, but decided against it. Ethan was a teenager. What did he know of adult romance? It didn’t matter anyway.
Ethan and I parted ways at the sidewalk. I hopped into the truck and drove home, grateful I didn’t have to walk or bike tonight. The desert night was cooler as the days grew shorter. Lucky Palms was settling comfortably into autumn.
My father was already asleep when I arrived home. I changed out of my work clothes and treated myself to a long hot shower before walking back out into the night. I retrieved the gift from the truck cab and curled up on the flowered chaise lounge beneath the sliver of the moon. A lone coyote howled in the distance. I shivered, and rubbed my arm with my hand.
Picking up the vase from my lap, I lifted the fiery red flowers to my nose, closing my eyes as I inhaled. I felt stupid. I didn’t want to accept these flowers, did I? What would that say? That all was forgiven? I huffed and dropped the vase back to my lap. The stems shifted upward, and the moonlight caught something small and white sticking out of the vase. I frowned, reaching down into the leaves with two fingers and retrieving a note. My heart nearly dropped to the floor as I read the lovely quote from one of my favorite poems followed by carefully penned words…
Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light;
I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.
You are my stars, Kassiopeia. I will wait in the night for you.
Author Note: I decided to parody Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera for this chapter since that’s what the Sims does. However, the plot remains largely the same, minus the time, Love in the Time of Simfluenza, and Fermina’s name, conveniently changed to Simmina, and the author’s middle name changed to Simcia. This novel in my Simworld is considered Mexsimican literature since a version of Latin America and South America don’t exist on Simterra. The poetic lines Billy quotes in his note are from a poem The Old Astronomer to His Pupil by Sarah Williams. Decipher his note as you will.