On a Saturday afternoon, Bella swayed as she stood before the mirror, admiring her appearance. The red skirt, black buckles, and silver spaghetti-strap top had been an excellent choice. She tucked a stray black hair over her ear, and wriggled her lower lip, puzzling over the potential rise of a pimple on her chin. Great! Just what I need! Bella had hoped her new dress would draw the attention of a certain red-haired older brother of her best friend. I want Danny to like me, she declared to herself.
As Bella poked around in her jewelry box, she nearly knocked it from the edge of the sink. She tried to decide the best piece to wear for the occasion. Her fingers found the heaviest item at the bottom, and she stopped, fingering the large metal watch. It was as if time stopped, despite the hands still ticking away. It had been a long time since she looked at this particular gift from a man whose life she saved one day at a beach in Sunset Valley.
Her parents had been furious upon finding out about the deliberately misleading vacation she and Jennifer took, however, upon hearing she had fished a Goth man out of the sea, they were more or less forgiving. She was still grounded for what felt like a century, and today was the first official party she was allowed to attend. She was going to make the most of it today. Bella placed Mortimer’s watch back in its place at the bottom of her jewelry box when she heard her father’s footsteps in the hallway. It hardly seemed appropriate to wear such a timepiece on the very day she would be seeing the man again for the first time in a year and four months. She didn’t want Mortimer to think she was sentimental.
“Daddy, please tell me you’re not wearing those God-awful white shoes!” Bella placed a hand on her hip and tapped the toe of her red high heel impatiently. “It looks so…retro…” she said, with disgust.
“Don’t say God awful, Bella,” her father chided. “God doesn’t want you to take his name in vain.”
Bella rolled her eyes. “I wasn’t…not really. It wasn’t like I said God damn it!”
“Bella!” Simis said, sternly. “You know what your mother and I said about your language.”
“Sure,” Bella twisted her curls around her finger nonchalantly, secretly thinking the God of the universe should damn her father’s shoes. “I’ll be good, Daddy. I promise.” No one should be allowed to wear those shoes in public.
“Now, your mother already asked you to stay a few minutes to meet Mr. Goth, right?” Simis said. “So I want you to be polite, okay?”
“Daddy! I will be polite,” Bella sighed. “Why is he coming here anyway?”
“He’s coming to meet your mother and I, and he wants to thank you,” Simis explained.
“But he didn’t have to fly all the way from Califorsimia to do that,” Bella shrugged, awkwardly, feeling uncomfortable about the prospect of meeting the man she had rescued from the ocean.
Truth be told, Bella had been corresponding with Mr. Mortimer Goth over the course of the year. Once he sent her the first letter, she felt an instant leap in her heart. An older, intelligent, accomplished, handsome, rich man was paying her mind, and she was flattered. Her letters were filled with mostly nonsense – who had gotten in trouble at her school, what the cafeteria lunches were like, how boring her father’s sermons were and her mother’s lectures on health and wellness, how her little brother kept stealing her nail polishes and stuffing them down the laundry chute, what she and Jennifer were doing on a Friday night, and how she had always wanted a cat. She was more than curious about his travels and all the exotic places he visited like Champs les Sims and Shang Simla and a place called Al Simhara in the Middle East.
Mortimer seemed to indulge her rants and asked her questions about her home, school, and church, wanting to know about her friends and family, and asking for reassurances that his watch was kept safe. Miraculously, after its trip to the sea, the timepiece had survived and was still ticking away. She had kept it hidden from her parents, as pure silver in the SimNation was rare to come by since the Silver Rush of the early 2300s. She was almost afraid they would take it away, either calling her a foolish sentimental or saying the gift was inappropriate.
“He’s here on business, and he wanted to stop by,” Simis replied. “So you will stand up straight, look him in the eye when you shake his hand, and answer any questions he might have. Okay, young lady?”
“Fine,” she purposely slouched. “But I can only stay ten minutes. Jennie is already waiting for me in the music room downstairs.”
“Your friend can wait, and this party can wait,” Simis said sternly. “Bella, Mr. Goth can make some incredible connections for you… for your future.”
“Right, right, right,” Bella waved her hands, impatiently. “I’ll talk with Mr. Goth if it will make you happy, but Daddy?” she wrinkled her nose. “You know I want to study fashion design, right? Why would I want to talk to a boring old businessman like Mr. Goth?”
“Bella, be respectful,” Simis reached out and straightened her shoulders. “You never know what kind of opportunities Mr. Goth will offer and you would be foolish not to accept…now…I need to go make sure I put the lawn mower away on the back lawn. Will you go check on your mother?”
“Sure, Daddy,” Bella clunked down the stairs behind her father.
While brewing the coffee for her guest, Jocasta stood in sad silence. She couldn’t recall ever feeling so defeated. If this didn’t work, they could lose the house. She might need to take a second job, and then she wouldn’t be home with the kids as much. If this didn’t work, they wouldn’t be able to send Bella to university, and they would have to sell the second car, and Michael might not be able to go to the dentist for braces. He would have crooked teeth for the rest of his life, all because his parents were drowning in debt. Jocasta hunched, pressing her palms into the counter, and heaved a shuddering sob.
“Mom! Are you okay?”
Jocasta’s eyes whipped to her son, bouncing into the kitchen with a concerned look on his face. He was supposed to have already left to go play at his friend’s house.
“Michael, you’re still here?” Jocasta said, quickly swiping at the tear in her eye corner. “Did your bicycle get a flat tire again?” she sighed.
One more thing to worry about… they couldn’t even afford new bike tires for their son.
“No, Mom,” he shook his head, walking around her as he opened the refrigerator and rifled through the items, and did not continue to think to re-inquire. “I just came to get a juice box before I biked over to Chandler’s.”
Whew! Jocasta rose and dropped her shoulders. Dodged a bullet there. She didn’t really want to have to explain to her son what was about to happen.
“It’s good to stay hydrated,” she said, trying to force a smile.
“Yeah, right,” he bobbed his head as he ripped the plastic from his straw, jammed it through the foil hole, and began slurping his juice loudly. “Bye Mom!” he waved.
“Have a good time, sweetheart,” she called after him.
“Oh and Mom?”
“Don’t forget I’ve gotta get new pencils and a calculator for my upcoming school year,” he yelled.
“Don’t slam the…” Jocasta began, and then heard a familiar sound, and she jumped, startled, even though she knew it was coming.
New pencils and a calculator? Jocasta thought, worriedly, as she poured the freshly brewed coffee into ceramic mugs. Michael was about to start fifth grade at Jitmakusol Academy, and Bella would be leaving for Sim State University in a week. Jocasta didn’t have the heart to tell Michael that he would be transferring back to public school, especially after he had such a good year and he flourished in his classes after being removed from an environment where he had been bullied. Jocasta didn’t have the heart to tell Bella that she couldn’t follow her friends to college, and they instead needed her to stay in Pleasantview and get a job. As she set the empty coffee pot in the sink, Jocasta caught her reflection in the kitchen window. Oh! she touched her cheek. She would need to freshen up her face before Mortimer Goth arrived as the mascara stains under her eyes simply wouldn’t do. Hearing the doorbell ring, Jocasta called out.
“Bella? Are you down here? Could you get the door?”
Bella had followed her dad to the entryway, and he kissed her head before walking to the back door. She sighed as she saw Mortimer Goth coming down the sidewalk, reaching over his shoulder to press the button on his keys to lock his fancy black Arch Venus 9 convertible parked on the curb. Great! Bella rolled her eyes. The guy thinks he’s all that! It was a nice car, nonetheless. Mortimer took one step onto their walkway, and then turned and sneezed loudly. Bella covered her mouth to keep from giggling. You could hear that sneeze all the way over on the Simistral Coast.
The man looked a bit preppy, not at all like the stuffy accountant Bella expected him to be, as he was dressed in gray dress slacks, a white collared shirt, blue-grey pullover sweater, and what appeared to be a blazer with a fraternity logo. Bella narrowed her eyes. How old is this guy? And so many layers in the summer. She clicked her tongue. Evidently, the man was unaccustomed to the humidity of Misimigan. Too formal for my taste.
Mortimer turned and his eyes looked straight at Bella. She gasped, and hopped to the side, wishing their entryway was larger so she could better hide. Suddenly, she felt self-conscious about meeting the man whom she rescued four months before. Bella wondered if he would stay long. She really wanted to get to Lucy Hanby’s house, to attend the high school party before her freshman year in college. University life promised plenty of parties and excitement of its own, but Bella wanted to enjoy her final days as a recent senior. It’s all downhill from here, right, she scratched the side of her face and then gasped, hoping she didn’t screw up her makeup.
Bella sincerely hoped he would forget all the silly nonsense she wrote in her letters. She didn’t want to appear to be a insignificant school girl. She was a high school graduate after all, heading for Sim State University in Neighborly City upstate. Bella puffed out her chest with pride, but quickly squashed her thoughts of accomplishment. Oh what if he mentions the letters to the parents? They didn’t know. Would they approve? Would they think it strange? Bella would much rather just be at the party with Danny and Jenni and the kids her own age. There was something about Mortimer that made her nervous while simultaneously flattered.
Here goes nothing, Bella flung open the door, shocking a nearby pigeon roosting on the fence and from the startled look on Mortimer’s face, Bella figured she had surprised him also.
“Hello, Mortimer,” she stretched out her hand to offer him a friendly shake.
That way I set the groundwork immediately. I am not interested in him romantically… well… maybe… those dimples are pretty adorable…oh shut up, Bella!
“Well, now that’s a firm handshake,” he remarked.
“Too firm?” she winced, withdrawing her hand as she felt self-conscious.
“Not at all,” he smiled gently, leaning forward and kissing her knuckles and bringing shivers to her spine.
Bella flushed. Oh gawd! What if my parents see?
“Please come in,” she cleared her throat and sauntered into the house, hoping no one saw Mortimer’s grand gesture.
“Bella, you didn’t tell us you rescued such a handsome gentleman,” Jocasta cooed.
Bella closed her eyes in humiliation. “Mom!” she sighed. “Mortimer, this is my mother, Jocasta Bachelor…” she gestured and then motioned to her father. “And her husband, Simis.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you both,” Mortimer shook both of her parents’ hands respectively. “I am grateful you invited me into your home.”
“The pleasure is ours,” Simis said, beaming with pride. “We are grateful you took the time in your busy schedule to meet with us.”
Bella resisted the urge to roll her eyes at her father’s intentional sucking-up.
“Thank you for coming,” Jocasta smiled. “We are glad you reached out to us. Bella has told us very little about your meeting. I trust you are fully recovered.”
“Mom’s a doctor,” Bella piped up, glancing at her fingernails.
“Yes,” Mortimer patted Jocasta’s hand. “Thanks to your beautiful daughter, I am safe and sound and still breathing,” he glanced over and winked at Bella, and she stepped back into the wall, feeling conspicuous.
Bella turned to her father, hoping she had stayed long enough. “I’m going to go grab my purse upstairs. Will you give me some money, Daddy? I’d like to pick up a bottle of soda for the party. I forgot it was potluck.”
“Could you pick something other than a sugary water beverage?” Simis said, disapprovingly.
“Bella,” Jocasta frowned. “You should still have money leftover from your allowance for those kinds of things.”
“But Mama,” Bella protested. “I had to catch a cab from the game the other day because…
she narrowed her eyes. “…you two forgot to pick me up.”
“Bella plays soccer,” Simis said, turning his attention to Mortimer. “She is the captain of her soccer team, but right now, she’s just playing intramurals until she goes off to university.”
“Daddy,” Bella lightly whacked her father in the stomach. “Please? The money?”
“Allow me,” Mortimer interjected, reaching for his wallet.
“Oh no, I couldn’t ask you to do that,” Simis shook his head, putting out his hand and laying it on the other man’s wrist.
“No, it’s my pleasure,” Mortimer smiled politely, handing Bella a ten-note. “Now you can buy ten sodas or something else if you wish.”
“Thank you,” Bella grinned, greedily grabbing the Simoleons from the older gentleman. “Now, Mama, tell Jennie I’ll be down in a minute. I want to grab my purse and a sweater in case it cools off this evening, and my new tube of lip gloss.”
With that, Bella bounced up the stairs, two at a time. Simis and Jocasta looked at Mortimer sheepishly.
“Sorry, teenage girls,” Simis chuckled weakly.
“It’s fine,” Mortimer lifted a hand. “I don’t mind.”
“Shall we?” Jocasta said, tilting her head to the dining room.
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