the fifth of spring
The strange green man left the pathway and started climbing through the underbrush, branches seeming to part for his passage and slapping Jade back in the face. She tried following, with frustration, batting away the obstacles, but she realized she was only frightening him more. Puffing, she stopped to catch her breath as she grabbed her knees. Who was he and what had he been doing at the community center?
As she tried to return to the path, Jade realized she was lost. She had no idea what direction she came from or where she should be going. Squinting up at the sun, she attempted to gauge the way back. It took her a few moments to ascertain that she was going the wrong direction, and probably in circles. A group of gulls shrieked overhead as if to mock her. Why oh why did I think it was a good idea to chase the guy? she wondered in annoyance. A branch smacked her exposed cheek.
“Ouch!” she squeaked.
A little red fox hurried along the brush, darting down the sandy dirt pathway. She sighed, wishing she could ask it for answers, but that was about as foolhardy as running after someone she didn’t know to ask questions about a community center that she didn’t exactly want to be at in the first place. If only she had listened to her gut and stayed in Pelican Town instead of following the mayor. Pelican Town! Her eyes widened as she realized the sun was setting. Right on cue, the ferry horn honked. Jade raced to the edge of the rock side, desperately waving and hoping the boat would see her, but no luck.
“Great,” she collapsed to her knees and wondered if the mayor had even tried looking for her.
After wandering for what felt like hours, Jade finally circled back to the community center. She noticed a man walking downhill from the lighthouse – middle aged, full beard, blue cap and white jacket. Perhaps he was a local and could help her make a call since her phone was dead. Or better yet, he could help her get back to the mainland.
“Hello,” Jade greeted. “I need some help.”
“I don’t know you,” the man shook his head. “You’re a stranger.”
“Do you live around here?” Jade continued, undeterred. “Or on the mainland? I missed the ferry.”
“Sorry, darlin,'” he shrugged. “Can’t help you.”
“Please…” she begged. “I just moved to Pelican Town and I’m living on Second Chances Farm. I came over with the mayor today but it seems he left me behind.”
His face relaxed. “Oh you’re the new Farmer everyone’s talkin’ about.”
“Yes, yes, I am. Jade Araújo,” she said, enthusiastically.
“Finally moved to the Valley, I see,” he replied. “Not off to a great start, huh?”
“Yeah…” she said, sheepishly. “I’m… uh… looking to repair the community center and lost track of time.”
“That old thing?” he sighed. “Good luck, darlin’. I’m Andy Fairchild by the by. I’ve been workin’ Fairhaven Farms for many years.”
“Another farmer?” she exclaimed. “Wonderful to meet you Andy!”
“It ain’t much, but it’s honest work,” Andy shrugged. “You’re lucky you got that free property from your grandpa.”
“Oh…” her expression fell. “Yeah… lucky… do you have a phone I could use? Or by chance are you going back to the mainland.”
“Naw…” Andy said. “I’m here for the night. Stayin’ at a friend’s. If you can’t find someone to help ya, come by the old fishing village and I’m sure some folks would put you up for the night.”
“Oh… okay… thank you,” she forced a smile, feeling a twinge of disappointment.
Jade continued up the hill from where Andy came, hoping to find someone at the museum who hadn’t closed up shop for the day. She happened to see a familiar face.
“Hey new girl!” Alex exclaimed. “What are you doing out here on the island? You know you missed the ferry right?”
“Uh… yeah…” she twisted the toe of her boot in the sand. “I did. What are you doing here?”
“Dusty and I come out here sometimes to run around,” he pointed toward his redbone coonhound dog running around in the brush. “And to pay respects to Mamá.”
“Lewis mentioned the cemetery,” Jade replied. “My condolences for your loss. I know how hard it is to… er… lose a mom.”
“Yours too, huh?” Alex tilted his head.
“Well, no, she’s not gone… gone,” Jade clarified. “She just ran out on my dad and I when I was just a toddler. I barely remember.”
“Sorry,” Alex grimaced. “That’s rough. I was eleven when Mom got sick and she passed before my twelfth birthday,” he shoved his hands in his jeans pockets. “It is what it is. I live with my grandparents. They’re great. Wouldn’t be here if they didn’t help me through high school and college.”
“That’s really cool,” Jade replied. “To have a good relationship with your grandparents. I barely remember my Papa Jack. We moved away from here after my parents split and I didn’t get to see him again until right before he died.”
“Papa Jack?” Alex arched a brow.
“Yeah, that’s what I called him,” Jade smiled. “I do have some fond memories of him here.”
“So you lived in the Valley before?” Alex deduced.
“Yes, I was born here…” she confirmed.
“I wondered why you looked familiar… there’s something about…” he trailed off at the sound of his dog barking. “Dusty…” he whistled. “…here boy!”
The dog was either having too much fun or didn’t hear his owner, probably the former. He stopped and sat in the sand, watching from a distance.
“Animals,” Jade made a fist and swung her arm. “Silly creatures!”
“He does this sometimes,” Alex shared. “Doesn’t want to come in. Say do you need a lift back to the mainland?”
“You got a ride?” her eyes widened. “That would be great! Thank you!”
“Yeah, I rowed out here. Did crew in high school. Kept in shape,” he declared proudly. “Was a quarterback in high school. All-star. Full ride to Arcadia University. Got drafted into gridball in the minors too right after Uni and played for a season… till I blew out my knee.”
Jade winced. “Ouch! That sucks.”
“Yeah,” he fiddled with his backward baseball cap. “It blows.”
“What do you do now?” she asked.
Alex hesitated. “You are gonna think it’s stupid.”
“What? No!” Jade protested.
“You promise you won’t laugh?” he asked.
“I won’t,” she pledged.
“I coach dance over at the high school in Grampleton,” Alex admitted with a grimace.
“Really?” her eyes widened. “That’s cool. I bet the kids love you.”
Alex smiled broadly. “I also teach a Zumba class in Chestervale on Friday nights if you’re ever interested.”
“Sign me up,” she bobbed her head. “I’ve always wanted to learn.”
“Yeah… okay…” he appeared to regain his confidence.
They reached the mainland right after dark. Jade was almost glad she missed the ferry. She was able to enjoy the breathtaking sunset over the water and valley. And she enjoyed the company of Alex’s furry companion, his best bud. Alex regaled Jade with stories of his years as an athlete and how he had hoped to play for the Tunnelers, but he was making the best of his situation. While she hadn’t ever been into sports, and she was sure she someone like Alex wouldn’t have looked her way when she was in high school, Jade did her best to listen. He was enthusiastic and passionate, and that’s all that mattered. As soon as they reached shore, Dusty leapt from the boat and raced up the dock.
“Dumb dog,” Alex shook his head.
Jade climbed over the side while he secured the ropes.
“Alright, any time you need a ride, you just let me know,” Alex grinned and opened his arms. “My boat is always open… especially to farmers like you.”
“Haha,” Jade replied. “Hopefully I don’t get stuck again. But thank you.”
Author Notes: Thanks for reading. It seemed fitting for Alex to have rowed crew, probably in off season from gridball. I had to create some reason he would have a way off the island. I didn’t actually pick the Sims that wandered around – the game did, which made it all the more random and fun. This chapter also introduced Andy, a character in Flashshifter’s Stardew Valley Expanded mod. I gave him a full beard in the Sims. I just didn’t like the half-bearded look on him. Hope you enjoyed!