the sixth of spring
With little more than a gruff “Hello,” Shane arrived to move around the stove and deliver the refrigerator. Grateful for the assistance, but leery of the grumpy man, Jade busied herself with cleaning the bathroom, which was desperately overdue for a face lift. Perhaps she could talk to Robin about expanding the room to make more space for her makeup and jewelry, providing a place to get ready in the morning. When noon rolled around and Shane still hadn’t finished, grumbling and griping over the directions for the oven hook-up, Jade left him in the capable company of her new watchdog, whom she had affectionately named Thor.
Her new pup was on his assigned mission, following Shane, barking for attention. Shane, of course, was annoyed, but when he didn’t think Jade was watching, he did bend down and scratch the dog behind the ears. Jade went to Pierre’s, the grocer in town, whom she had met earlier that morning to pick up groceries for the dinner party she had planned. It would be a simple meal, but it was time to invite over some neighbors to her place, even if it was a one-room shack. When she returned, she found Shane had finished setting up the refrigerator and stove, and had moved her cooler across the room to use as a stool while he watched the silly meteorologist in a cowboy hat and bold Aloha shirt.
“Thank you for your help,” Jade smiled, setting her grocery bags on the table.
Pierre had been helpful, offering to show her around the shop, which was clearly his pride and joy. She came home with the motherload of groceries at a decent price. The store, while a far walk, was worth a visit, and she would definitely return to patronize the local business, even if she wasn’t particularly fond of its owner. Thankfully, his wife Caroline interrupted their conversation when he was explaining how he helped nail every stud and laid all the floorboards by hand. Robin wasn’t the only carpenter in Stardew Valley, and Pierre was halfway decent if he said so himself, which he did, twice. Caroline welcomed Jade to the Cove and hoped she enjoyed working on the farm. She also politely redirected the conversation so Pierre would be aware that Jade really didn’t want to hear him brag about everything under the sun.
“Whatever,” Shane shoved his hands in his pockets. “I’m outta here.”
“Wait, I have simoleons for Marnie,” Jade protested as Shane brushed past her and stomped out the door, his work boots hitting against the porch like the god of thunder himself.
“You can give it to her later,” Shane grimaced. “I’m not a bank.”
“Oh, uh… okay… well, thanks,” Jade narrowed her eyes, clasping her hands and pressing her lips. “Shane, you should join us tonight for dinner?”
“I don’t think so,” Shane said, jumping off the porch without using the stairs and walking away.
Darkness settled in early in the foothills in Stardew Cove. Jade wished she had more lamps to brighten up the place, but she barely had enough for groceries. Soon, she would be making more money with bigger harvests once the weather warmed. For the first time in awhile, Jade enjoyed a lukewarm shower, picked out a cute cream blouse, green plaid shorts, added her favorite jewelry, and did her hair. She was going to have guests tonight. Her first trunk had finally arrived and she had a much larger selection of clothing, among other necessities.
Marnie was the first to arrive, shortly after dusk. Jade had just set the mood with Carnaval Beats on her mini audio blaster. The meal would be simple – sliced apples and strawberries, a fizzy fruit punch, and tuna melts, grilled on her new stovetop, making use of one of her new purchases – a set of pots and pans. The ladies talked fashion and travel as Marnie wore a Komorebian style, neutral palate dress and a pair of khaki colored slacks. Jade confessed she had never been to Mount Komorebi, but she would certainly love to see the snow-covered pines and town of a thousand leaves. Marnie shared she grew up with rather unorthodox parents who didn’t believe in traditional school and traveled around the world with their daughter in tow. Jade found this concept fascinating. She shared about her experiences at the Selvadoradan Carnaval as the world renowned event, celebrating her heritage, and introducing the Holy Week would happen next week.
Gunther arrived next, promising the ladies that Gus would be along soon. Jade stoked the fire before returning to the table. Gunther was excited to jump into the conversational cultural exchange. While his last name, Silvian, was Romalian in origin, Gunther was raised by a Highlander mother and a Hesperian father. He celebrated both Holy Week in the Jacoban and Peteran faith, though he shied away from the fanfare of parades. He did appreciate the music, and spent time in the Selvadoradan rainforests during the season with a pit-roasted pig beneath palm leaves.
“Get him to share with you about the time he swung from the tree branches after a little too much Cachaça during Holy Week,” Gus said with a laugh, shaking off the rain drops from his coat.
“Gus, welcome!” Jade smiled enthusiastically.
“Oh heavens no,” Gunther lifted a hand to his face to hide his eyes. “Please no.”
“I’m only teasing a little, my love, but just because you’re so fun to tease,” Gus leaned over and planted a kiss on his boyfriend’s cheek before leaving for the restroom to wash his hands.
“Can’t be as humiliating as the time I rode naked on a bull in Amurak,” Marnie shared.
Jade gasped. “No.”
“Really? Why?” Gunther appeared very uncomfortable.
“Because it was liberating…” Marnie shared, and placed her thumbs next to her head and waved her index fingers. “I sure mooooned the crowd!”
“Oh,” Jade riled with laughter.
Gunther once again tipped his head. Gus let out a deep-bellied laugh as he emerged from the bathroom.
“You surprise me sometimes, Marnie,” Gus said.
“Maybe I am a little mooooon-brained,” Marnie shrugged with a smirk. “It was the sixties. Everyone did wild things.”
“A little too wild if you ask me,” Gunther winced, lifting his glass. “Got anything stronger?”
“For you, yes,” Gus replied, and pulled a flask out of his pocket, dropping a splash of a clear potent liquor into Gunther’s punch. “No offense, Jade.”
“None taken,” she grinned. “Fill me up.”
“Even when I’m not at the saloon, I’m working,” Gus shook his head.
“And whose fault is that darling?” Gunther nudged his partner.
“I’ll take a little,” Marnie said, pushing her glass toward Gus. “Or a lot.”
Everyone laughed. It was a jovial party. Jade listened as Gunther finally opened up and shared details about swinging from a tree after too many spirits and playing a Charango, a five-stringed guitar made from an armadillo shell. He felt awful about the armadillo until his rainforest guide explained the creature had bit three children in the village. Then he used his classical guitar skills and put his days in the theater and ballet to test as he hung upside down on the branch of a palm and sang a very off-key, drunken rendition of Livin’ La Vida Loca. Jade enjoyed getting to know her neighbors, and but she was grateful she did not have indiscriminate youthful tales to share.
“You’re still young, chica,” Gus grinned.
“Oh no, I like to think I got through my twenties unscathed, without any revelry,” Jade shook her head.
“But that is part of life,” Marnie smiled. “Being ridiculous and letting loose.”
“I’d like to keep my clothes on,” Jade said. “And preferably not swing from trees,” she coughed. “Sorry. I’m not trying to sound judgmental.”
“You aren’t,” Gus winked.
“We’re an easygoing crowd,” Marnie assured.
“And a forgiving one,” Gunther added, patting Jade’s hand. “Thank you for dinner. This was great.”
“I’m glad to see the stove worked out,” Gus nodded.
“Yes, Shane did a good job hooking everything up today,” Jade replied. “I only wish he had joined us for dinner. Thank you for the chairs, Marnie.”
“Anytime, honey,” Marnie said. “And don’t you worry about Shane. He’ll warm up to you eventually. I think he’s pulling a double shift tonight.”
“Overnight?” Jade’s eyes widened. “And he was at my place before noon?”
“He can’t say no to his auntie,” Marnie said, her eyes twinkling.
Author Notes: Thank you for reading. I enjoyed writing this dinner party chapter. The Sims had such fun in the game, laughing, joking, being mischievous. If you’re curious about my worldbuilding, here’s the shorthand version: Hesperia/Hesperian is my Simworld version of Spain located in the Sim Union in the Western hemisphere. Highland/Highlander is my Simworld of Scotland/Ireland, located to the north, also in the Sim Union. Amaruk is a country located on the northern coast of the continent of Vendia and would be comparable to Morocco. Jacoban and Peteran are religions in Sims Medieval, and I’ve developed them a bit further in my Simworld (parallels to Catholicism and Protestantism). Cachaça is You can learn more about Simterra here and here on my Simterra Tales blog, where I share articles about my worldbuilding.
the sixth of spring
It was a hazy spring morning when Jade awakened. Her garden did not require too much attention. Within the hour, she had already completed her chores – weeding, watering, harvesting her parsnips, carrots, garlic, and parsley. As she wandered back to the cabin, she noticed something metal and large beside her mailbox.
It was an old Yum Cooker stove. The banana yellow paint was peeling in multiple spots, revealing the silver undercoat. A leg was missing, resulting in an uneven position and a tilt to her left, its right. There were scorch marks on the stovetop, and grease pooling in the bottom of the oven. But it was all hers – finally! A stove to cook meals. The note read ‘a gift from your neighbors… sorry it isn’t much...’ and was signed Gus and Gunther. Gus’s handwriting was quick and slanted, almost chicken scratch, and Gunther’s was flowy and flourished on the paper. Nonetheless, she was pleased. They promised to come by later that day to hook up her new kitchen appliance.
By eight in the morning, the skies were not much brighter, nor the temperature much warmer. No matter. Jade still decided to go for a walk. Perhaps she would stop by the Brewster-Silvian household to catch the gentlemen before work to thank them for their generosity. She found herself dreaming about meals she could cook, now that she had a stove and oven – parsnip soup, carrot cake, garlic bread, and a parsley chimichurri sauce drizzled over fresh-caught Arcadian salmon. Her mouth watered at the delicious thoughts.
“Well, hello there,” she smiled as a small field rabbit hopped up to her boot.
Its friend was chewing contently on strands of grass nearby. This was the first real wild animal she had encountered. The rabbit appeared friendly enough. Jade reached down and allowed the critter to sniff her hand. Hesitantly, the creature bopped her hand with its nose.
“Aww,” she said. “What’s good around here, fluff?”
The rabbit tilted its head and twerked an ear as if trying to make sense of human words.
Jade continued her stroll down the pathway and across a small stone footbridge. Soon, she encountered a portly gentleman with pale skin, red hair, and thick blue rims. He appeared dressed for running in his red long-sleeved shirt, grey-black shorts, and sneakers. He slowed to a jog when he saw her wave.
“Bom Dia, I’m Jade Araújo,” she said.
He narrowed his eyes and leaned back. “I don’t speak Selvadoradan.”
“Oh… uh…” she was taken aback. “I just said… good morning.”
“Right, morning,” he forced a smile.
“I just moved in up the hill,” Jade continued, trying to make small talk with the man.
“Hey you’re Miss… uh… the new farmer?” he guessed. “…sorry, don’t think I can pronounce your name right,” he laughed half-heartedly. “Lewis told me about you.”
It took ever fiber of her being to hide a grimace as the man was extremely inconsiderate. “It’s Jade… like the precious mineral, and Araújo… uh-raa-hOH… like who with an accent.”
“I don’t do accents,” the man shook his head. “I was born Cascadian.”
“Oh… have a good day then,” Jade decided it would be best to move along.
“Wait,” he straightened, his stomach jutting out, his nose tilted, and his right shoulder slightly back. “No need to get offended. I’m Pierre Marchand, owner of the local general store. If you’re looking for seed, my shop is the place to go. I’ll also buy produce from you for a good price!”
“That’s good to know,” Jade acknowledged.
“I have a daughter around your age,” Pierre continued. “Abigail. She’s nineteen and at the technical college.”
“Oh, I’m not a teenager,” Jade corrected, though she neglected to mention she was ten years older.
“Ah…” Pierre pushed his index fingers together awkwardly. “You young folks… take it as a compliment.”
“I will,” she replied, pushing the biggest grin she could onto her face.
“It’ll be nice to have more produce variety,” Pierre remarked. “A little agriculture could really inject new life into the local economy.”
“I see,” she nodded. “I’ll do my best.”
“We Valley folk expect nothing less,” he waved as he continued his jog.
When Jade reached the top of her hill on the outskirts of her property, she was grateful to see a friendly face. Marnie brought a basket full of fresh eggs, much to Jade’s delight. After exchanging pleasantries, she shared about her recent encounter with a certain rude shopkeeper.
“Pierre can be an ass,” Marnie offered. “Just don’t let him bother you, and stand up for yourself.”
“Thanks, I did,” Jade said, though not as confidently as she would’ve liked.
“And if you want a real ass…” Marnie winked. “I sell donkeys on my ranch.”
“Ha!” Jade smirked. “I’ve had enough for one day.”
“So many strays…” Marnie exclaimed. “Your grandpa used to feed all of them.”
“Yes, I have quite the congregation,” Jade replied.
“Aww…” Marnie bent and petted a big black dog. “I would take all of you in if I could. Look at the little baby in the sweater,” she cooed.
“I was thinking about keeping a dog around here,” Jade said. “Might be useful for digging up things and scaring off critters once my garden really gets going.”
“It can get awful lonesome up here too,” Marnie sighed. “You could use the companionship.”
“Yes…” Jade trailed off.
She had never owned a pet, or had an animal companion before. Her father was allergic to fur, and her mamá hated anything with four legs it seemed. Always excuses. Too noisy. Too hairy. Too slobbery. Too messy. Too much work. No. No. No. Jade figured now that she lived in the country on a farm that a puppy wouldn’t be a bad idea. They would have plenty of land to roam and could be just what she needed to endure long, lonely nights.
“You know, you’re right,” she continued. “I have been thinking about this sweet dog…” she nodded toward the goldendoodle by her leg.
“Good choice,” Marnie approved. “You know I can help you expedite a license. I work part-time in the county clerk’s office.”
“You do?” Jade’s eyes widened. “Marnie you have so many jobs to do.”
“Keeps me busy,” Marnie remarked. “And I get to be near Lewis.”
“The mayor?” Jade arched a brow.
“Oh!” Marnie flushed and tilted her head. “Yes, I mean, the mayor. Sugar! I shouldn’t have said anything.”
“It’s okay,” Jade replied.
“We aren’t official or nothing. No titles. That’s not for me, you know, but we’ve been seeing each other… if you catch my drift,” Marnie admitted shyly.
“Your secret is safe,” Jade replied. “Um… can I ask you a question? Is Lewis always… er… pushy?”
“You mean pushing you right off a cliff into a project he concocted?” Marnie said and laughed lightly. “Yes. He gets these things in his head and then he won’t let go. Stubborn man.”
“Ah… yeah, he kinda recruited… well… uh…pushed me,” Jade started, frowned, and shook her head. “Well, really shoved me right into this project.”
“Right off a cliff,” Marnie nodded. “That’s the mayor for you. What’s the project? Maybe I can help.”
“Renovating the town community center over on Lonely Rock Island,” Jade said. “He seems to think my degrees and experiences might come in handy.”
Marnie’s eyes widened. “That’s a huge project for you to take on by yourself, lassie. I’m surprised he asked you. It hasn’t been high on his priority list.”
“Seems like the Governor and some funds for the town might play a role in speeding up this… project,” Jade replied, using ‘air quotes.’
“Well, I’m not sure how I can help,” Marnie said. “But I’ll ask around and see who’s available and has materials or ideas.”
“Thank you,” Jade nodded appreciatively. “I should get back to work.”
“No, I should get going too,” Marnie agreed. “Here are the eggs… say need help with that stove?”
“Uh… yes, I think Gus is coming by after work,” Jade glanced over at her large gift.
“No need to wait. You needed a refrigerator too and I’ve got several spares in my barn. I’ll send Shane over with delivery and he can help install too,” Marnie offered.
“Really?” Jade grinned. “Thanks. You already gave me eggs. At least let me pay you for the fridge.”
“Nonsense, what are neighbors for but to give you gifts and drop by unannounced!” Marnie waved her hand.
“I can’t take it for free,” Jade shook her head. “There must be something I can pay you… something you can use the money for?”
“I tell you what?” Marnie pondered momentarily. “Five hundred simoleons would cover my truck repairs and I’d still have some leftover to go get my hair and nails done this month.”
“Deal,” Jade stuck out her hand. “And I insist you come over for dinner tonight to celebrate with me.”
“Done,” Marnie grinned.
Author Notes: Thanks for reading. In Stardew Valley, the farmer doesn’t get a kitchen until much later, but I decided to put something in sooner for practicality. Jade needs to be able to cook meals, and it’s a bit unrealistic not to have at least a stove/fridge. I’ll save a full kitchen addition until later. Also I rolled for the luck and received a 4 – an excellent day. Also, Jade received a text message from Gus welcoming her to town so I decided the first “mailed” gift would be from Gus. I looked through off-the-grid items in the catalog and rolled at random to see what she would get. I didn’t plan to do both a stove and fridge, but I decided to subtract the cost of the fridge from her simoleons and gave Marnie those as a gift. And sidenote: I don’t speak Portuguese, but Bom Dia means Good Morning. Jade hasn’t used her family’s native tongue much, but I figured it was time to showcase a little bit. Didn’t expect to run into Pierre jogging on the morning walk… Pierre… of all people! Probably to avoid his wife’s “wellness” classes.
the fifth of spring
As she continued up a higher level of the pier, Jade passed a food stand. Her stomach rumbled, and she realized she hadn’t eaten all day. Not since leaving the farm. A salt-and-peppery gentleman walked out from behind the stall, closing the rolldown as he appeared to be locking up. Jade recognized him. She quickened her pace, hoping to catch him before he completely closed for the night.
“Hello, Mister… Linus, isn’t it?” Jade introduced herself politely, bowing deeply to hopefully put the man at ease.
“Hiiii… he…lllo…” he stammered. “Yes, I’m… uh… Li…Li…Linus.”
“It’s so nice to meet you Linus,” she replied, genuinely, with a warm smile.
“You’re…a…uh… stranger? Hello. Don’t mind me,” he said.
“Mister Linus… are you still selling food or are you closed?” she asked.
“Uh… I… could be…” he said, with a slight squeak.
The man dropped his gaze, and pulled his enormous arms close to his legs. With his physique, he certainly worked out. Jade wondered why the gentle giant appeared frightened of her. He was shy in his manner, but his voice, while shaky, was deep and soft. Tonight, the top button of his deep blue polo was unbuttoned, probably as he was leaving work. The white collar was immaculately starched. His apron, despite working what she assumed was a long shift due to the bags under his eyes, was spotless.
“Hey Mister Linus,” Jade tried to ease into a more comfortable conversation. “I don’t have a washer and dryer on my farm. Would you happen to know a good place to get my clothes clean?”
“Oh… I… uh… don’t know… about that… Miss… Jade…” Linus answered, averting his eyes.
“I was just admiring your apron… so clean, despite working with fish,”
“Cleanliness is next to godliness,” he said, appearing to relax slightly. “That’s what Isabelle always says.”
Jade smiled. “Oh, is she your wife?”
“Uh… now… er… listen… I really have to be going…” Linus threw up his hands defensively.
“I’m sorry if I said something to offend you,” Jade narrowed her eyes.
“I… I… have to go…” Linus said, removing his apron and hanging it on the side of the food stall.
“Please, don’t let me keep you,” she stepped aside to appear less intimidating. “I’m really sorry to have disturbed you.”
“Oh… oh…” was all Linus said before hurriedly disappearing up the walkway and turning abruptly toward the street, disappearing beyond the trailer park.
That was strange, she twisted her lower lip and kept walking.
“Hey Jade!” a familiar voice called out to her from another food stall.
She froze in her steps, grimacing to herself as she realized she would have to answer his text sooner than she expected. Jade had hoped to at least have a night to think about how she should tell someone she was interested, but not yet. Sam smiled happily as she turned and moved toward him. He wore an outfit similar to Linus, and she wondered if they worked for the same company. Her abdomen gurgled as her eyes clamped on the firecracker shrimp.
“Hi Sam,” she greeted, trying to keep her voice neutral, though she was sure some of her tiredness laced her tone.
“Can I interest you in a late night snack?” Sam grinned. “Creamy lobster salad on a buttery bun? Or a cozy bread bowl of seafood chowder with old bay seasoning and corn?”
“I didn’t know you could cook” Jade replied, graciously feeling the warmth of the sizzling stovetop and fryer from the booth.
“I don’t,” he replied. “But I do know my way around a spatula and a crockpot. And I just toasted the rolls myself and you should get it while it’s hot.”
“You’ve convinced me,” she said, handing him some cash. “I’ll have the chowder. didn’t know you worked… uh… along the docks.”
“Don’t usually,” he scooped the thick soup into a bowl of bread. “Drew the short straw. Morris said I had to work the late shift with today’s catch.”
“Morris, your boss?” she guessed.
“Yeah, more like dictator…” Sam snorted. “Sorry. I’m not planning to work in the grocery biz forever.”
“Ah,” she replied. “I didn’t think so.”
“A guy like me,” he continued, enthusiastically. “I’ve got plans. I’m gonna see my name in lights one day. I’ll be known around the whole country. Maybe even the whole world.”
“Oh really?” she raised her eyebrows and smiled. “What for?”
“What for? What for?” he slapped the counter in disbelief and excitement. “Ladies and gentlemen!” he cupped a hand near his mouth. “Sam Archer is going to wow you tonight on stage with his incredible riff. The most incredible riff you’ve ever heard in your whole life.”
Jade couldn’t help but feel his exuberance. She smiled and clapped. “Alright, let’s hear it for Sam.”
“Yes, my band is gonna hit it big. We’re gonna leave Stardew Valley behind and play stages all over the place. We’re gonna open for some great bands and then one day we will be the headliner,” Sam shared, dreamily. “I am gonna make it someday. And I hope you’re there to see it, Jade,” he winked.
An unknown emotion washed over Jade. She gulped, trying to ignore the lump in her throat. Instead of facing Sam, she awkwardly eyed the top corner of the blue and yellow striped booth pole.
“Sam, can we… uh… talk?”
“Uh oh,” his face fell. “That’s not good. Just… uh… wait…” he waved his hands. “Tell me. Did I come on too strong? Am I trying too hard? I really wanted to get that text message right. And oh boy! I should’ve told you face to face… but I’m a cow…”
“You’re not a coward,” she shook her head vigorously.
“Okay, good,” he eased into a charming smile. “I really like you, and uh… I just wasn’t sure what to say to your face, and I thought it would be easier to get all my thoughts out in a text message. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Sam,” she winced.
“Yeah,” he squeezed his eyes shut. “A guy knows when he’s about to get friend-zoned. I know the answer already.”
“No, you don’t,” Jade said urgently. “Please hear me out. You’re a nice guy. Sweet. Funny.”
“Yeah, my resume as a golden retriever lap dog,” he sighed.
“Sam, don’t beat up on yourself,” Jade clenched and released her fists trying to redirect her nervous energy. “Don’t joke. I actually…”
“I’m too young, that’s it, isn’t it?” Sam said. “I… know… but age is just a number. Or is it Haley? I know she was really mean to you the other night, but I promise, it won’t get in the way. Or is it because I still live with my parents? I can explain…”
“Please,” she interrupted. “It’s not any of those things,” she sighed heavily, trying to muster her own courage over the butterflies fluttering around in her heart. “It’s too soon… for me. You know about my fiancé. He just died last fall. He was killed…” the words sounded foreign as she said them aloud. “…in a hit and run.”
“Oh gawd!” he grunted. “I’m a jerk. I’m sorry, Jade. I didn’t think… I mean, yeah, I knew about him. You said it. I didn’t realize it was so recent.”
She nodded appreciatively. “It was… hard to lose him… and I’m really not myself yet. Or I don’t know myself. And I can’t ask you to be part of that. Not now. Not yet.”
“I… I understand,” he bobbed his head. “Look. I’m sorry. Can we just take it all back? Can we still be friends?”
“We can’t take it back,” she said. “But we are absolutely friends.”
“Yeah,” he said, obviously disappointed, but he was trying to put up a brave front. He slipped her food onto a plate and handed her back the bills beneath. “Hey, look. It’s on me.”
“What? No!” she shook her head.
“I insist,” Sam replied with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “It’s the least I can do.”
Author Notes: Thanks everyone for your thoughts. Jade answered the text with “Let’s just be friends.” I did not expect Jade to run into Sam on the docks that very night though. Awkward. But I rolled with it, and while it was uncomfortable, I’m proud of her for waiting… for now.
the fifth of spring
As Jade walked up the gangplank, she was half-tempted to stop by Lewis’s home and give him a piece of her mind. Before she could decide, her phone jingled. It had been days since she checked her messages. Her reception was spotty on the farm, and she still didn’t have electricity. Alex was kind enough to let her borrow a battery pack while he rowed back to shore. She noticed an email from her dad.
The email was signed, “Thinking of you. 💕 Dad and Mom.” Jade chuckled to herself. Oh Dad. I miss you. His fatherly jokes were pretty funny, even if she rolled her eyes. There was another email from Cash’s estate lawyer. She frowned. She couldn’t open it just yet. The ‘Dear Ms. Araújo‘ in the headline was another depressing reminder that she was not, and would never be, Mrs. Cassius Landgraab.
There was an email from her old workplace, which only fueled her resolve to really go and give the mayor a rather large chewing-out, which he rightfully deserved. How dare he use her past job and family connection to engender guilt! The work email was succinct and impersonal as always. Human Resources wanted to know where to send her final paycheck. She typed her new address into the email and sent it off without a second thought. That chapter of her life needed to be closed.
The text message caught her by surprise. She could see her breath circulating in the air. She frowned, not because she wasn’t flattered, but because she had no idea how to react. Her heart inflated with many different emotions at once – grief, guilt, and the last one, an odd fleeting bit of happiness. She wasn’t sure she could allow herself to feel genuine happiness. At least not yet.
So this is gonna sound crazy… I know we’re friends and all but… well… okay, here it goes: I HAVE A CRUSH ON YOU. Phew. Okay it’s all out there. Um… so… would you want to go out with me sometime? You’re super cool. I really want to hang out with you more…?
“Oh Sam!” she covered her mouth with a moan.
It was funny. She could hear his voice in the words. They hadn’t known each other long, but the single text, all one breath, she could hear his voice. It pushed up against the voice of Cash in her head, telling her he loved her. It tugged on her heart. She liked Sam. She actually liked him and maybe someday she would be ready to be more than friends, but right now, she didn’t even know how to respond. To set aside the ache. To pull away from the loneliness and let the light in. To let go of the man who loved her and saw deep into her soul. To put herself out there and take a chance again. Cash wouldn’t want her to live like a half-empty shell of who she once was, but she wasn’t ready to take that step and explore a relationship with someone new.
“Watch where you’re going,” the voice said as a figure in all black brushed past.
Jade dropped her cell phone, startled, into her pocket. “You watch it!” she said, angrily, a little more harshly than she intended.
The figure was Sebastian. He just shrugged, and kept walking.
“Don’t you walk away from me,” Jade snapped, not fully feeling like herself, overcome with conflicting emotions and the day’s frustrations. “I’ve about had enough of rude Stardew Valleyers.”
Sebastian halted his steps, half-turned, and gave her a point-blank stare. Yes, she knew she sounded crazy. But she was tired. And sad. And annoyed. She didn’t care.
“Did you really just say Stardew Valley-ers?” he quirked a brow.
“Yes,” Jade released an exasperated sigh.
“Huh?” he replied.
“Huh, what?” she engaged, though she wasn’t quite sure why or what she was attempting to accomplish.
Sebastian retraced his steps. “Just sounds like someone’s had a bad day.”
“You think?” she snipped sarcastically, then let her shoulders drop in slight embarrassment. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be,” he shrugged. “You say what you feel. That’s more than a lot of people round here.”
“But I’m er… being kinda rude too,” Jade scratched the side of her head.
“New girl, for reals, just chill about it,” Sebastian said. “It’s no sweat off my back.”
She flushed, the sound of ‘new girl,’ oddly pleasing. “Um… okay…” she accepted, reluctantly. “So what are you doing out so late?”
“Is it late?” he glanced at his thick black wristwatch. “I guess it is. I like night walks.”
“Oh,” she replied, though she wasn’t sure how to move on.
“What are you doing?” he asked with a grin. “Trolling the docks for Voidcritters?”
“Spent the day out on Deadgrass Island.”
“Catch anything good?”
“No… I didn’t go to fish.”
“Oh. That’s really all people do out there. And check out the boring-as-hell museum,” Sebastian kicked a chunk of brick.
“Is it?” her eyes widened.
“Yeah,” he confirmed. “If you ask me, they should plant more trees.”
“Trees?” Jade repeated.
“The logging industry is wrecking the economy and environment over there,” he grabbed a cigarette out of his pocket.
She shook her head when he offered one.
“Suit yourself,” Sebastian said. “Have a good night, New Girl.”
“Yeah, you too… er… Sebastian,” she waved awkwardly after him.
Author Notes: The letter from Jade’s dad is a mod I use in Stardew Valley by Lumisteria called ‘Letters from Parents.’ It adds some fun things for the mailbox, and sometimes the parents send items or gold. Sam sent the text message all on his own in The Sims, and I loved it. What a surprise and right out of the gate a bachelor is eyeing our girl, Jade. Also Sebastian randomly confessed that he feels strongly about Speak for the Trees. I have my own theories about why that is, but I’d love to hear your thoughts. Also, what do you think of Sam? Should Jade go for it? Or do you think she’s wise to wait? Thanks for reading.
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!
the fifth of spring
It wasn’t worry. It wasn’t fear. It wasn’t frustration. It was anger. Angry, Jade hulked the stuck handles and opened squeaky doors to the supposedly once-majestic Community Center. What did the mayor say? Pride and joy! It was hard to imagine this place as the bustling neighborhood gathering place that Mayor Lewis described.
The doors slammed behind her as quickly as she had opened them, the sealing thud echoing throughout the abandoned place. She sighed. It was her own fault that for a fleeting second she thought the mayor was appealing to her skill set or some sense of pride or loyalty to her heritage. Instead, he picked her weak spot, a part of her life she felt ashamed of because she accepted a paycheck from the one company hellbent on ruling the world, and destroying it in the process.
Once Jade naively believed she could change a culture from the inside. Given time, dedication, and passion, people would see her morals and attitude and most importantly, results, when done right, and be compelled to change. By the time she realized she was a mere cog in the wheel, it was too late. Months of a dead-end job sucked the heart right out of her, and she kept her head down like any good grunt and did her job. It was only a paycheck. It was only her soul.
As she stared at the cracked wood, gaping holes, piles of rotting garbage, Jade knew she had to redeem this place. She had no choice. Or else surrender to the one thing she left Pine-Mesa to escape… the one thing other than the agonizing memories of Cash. Nature had already started to reclaim the community center – vegetation sprouting from the floor, a strange tree stump with egg-shaped indentations in the corner, and vines covering the gaps in the boards. The room smelled stale and sulfuric like a fine layer of dust and dry seaweed, with faint cedar base notes.
Gingerly she stepped across the floor toward a lighted, yet empty aquarium in the back corner. A piece of semi-dried gum stuck to her boot. Someone had been here recently. She frowned. For an abandoned building, the water in the tank was clear and clean, little to no algae clinging to its sides, and the aquatic plants rippled in the slow movement of the current. A loud creak echoed from the other side of the room. The fireplace roared to life.
“Hello?” she cried out, worriedly.
The flames cackled, but no one else answered. Strange… she was hesitant to go lean over the mysteriously self-starting fire to make sure the flue was open and clear. Still, self-preservation rang loudly in her brain, and Jade grimaced as she took a quick peek up the chimney. To her relief, she could see the smoke exiting to blue sky. Falling back against the wall next to the fireplace, she brought her hand up, her heart beating wildly. The place gave her the creeps, but she was determined not to let the mayor’s joking words about “hauntings” rattle her anymore.
The hallway to her left was the first place to explore. There wasn’t much to see, save peeling discolored wallpaper, a window overlooking a skeleton frame of a tree, and two separate doorways. On the wall hung a bulletin board, papered in old advertisements for babysitters, pet walking, a music festival, car tune-ups, and fishing lessons. She smiled and fingered the edge of the last ad when she saw Willy’s name. Her stomach rumbled.
“Guess Lewis didn’t think about lunch plans,” she murmured to her abdomen.
A loud groaning shooting through the pipes startled her. Jade jumped, turning to face the main room, but she was alone. Not a soul in sight. She half-expected a rat to dart across the floor, or another spider to drop from the ceiling onto her shoulder. She shivered, and rubbed her arms for warmth. Perhaps she should return to the fireplace. It was chilly in the building. No, she decided she would press on.
The first room to her right was for the furnace. Jade purposely wedged a brick in the doorway to keep it from slamming. Pipes going to unknown places crawled up the coal grey brick walls. The space had no windows, its only light source from a pull chain lamp overhead. Jade was surprised that Lewis kept the power on to a place like this, but then figured he could’ve paid someone to ready the place for her arrival. If you can call this preparation... A large crate caught her attention. While she would’ve liked to open and reveal its contents, she realized she probably would need a crowbar to do so. While the mayor gave her the run of the place, she wasn’t sure if that counted as destruction of private property.
The room to her left was brighter, with a window peering out into the overgrown garden and open field. The boarded walls were encased in white clematis and red Victoria creeper, surprising as the creeping vine only turned red in the fall. Nothing about this place felt right or normal. The largest filing cabinet she had ever seen sat against the furthest corner across from some crates. It wasn’t just large. It was enormous, like it had been inflated to a bigger size artificially. Jade felt a bit like Alice in Wonderland. She tried tugging on the handles, but they wouldn’t budge. She would probably need a key. Unfortunately, she would have to ask the mayor for one when she saw him again. She shivered and glanced at the dancing branches scratching against the glass. It almost felt like someone was watching.
Jade made her way to the opposite side of the building, discovering both a near-empty kitchen and a storage room, most likely once a stocked pantry. The final ground floor room had odd fuchsia carpeting, the only room she had discovered thus far with carpet. The walls were canvased in periwinkle blue paper with tiny white butterflies like the kind released at weddings and lilac colored grass sprouting from the white baseboards. The room was oddly familiar. Jade sucked in her breath through her teeth, feeling overwhelmed with the scent of modeling clay and watercolor paints, the sound of children laughing and playing, shrieking with joy, and the feel of a rocking chair and her fingernails digging into a soft wool sweater as she rocked back and forth.
Gasping, she collapsed back against the doorframe, unintentionally shutting the door. She shook her head wildly and unzipped her vest to allow for more air flow. What was that? Auditory and visual hallucinations? Am I going crazy? She stumbled forward dizzily, stopping at the sight of a large cardboard box in the center of the floor. A plaque with strange lettering leaned against its side. Jade puzzled as she tried to make out the characters to at least decipher the language. Instead of success, she was interrupted by a door slam.
“Hello!” she called out again, and saw a flash of green at the window. “Hey!” she exclaimed, running up and pressing her hands against the glass.
Throwing open the door, Jade raced from the room, hoping to catch the intruder. Running across the main room, she grunted as she pulled open the heavy double doors and made it outside. The bright sunlight temporarily disoriented as she lifted her hand to shield from the rays. The figure disappeared around the side of the building.
“Please… stop!” she called. “I just want to talk to you.”
When she reached the side yard, Jade stopped next to a picket fence, staring in vain off into the distance. Who else had been in the community center? She frowned, and closed her eyes. An old grounding technique a therapist had suggested. Something to help bring her back to the moment when her anxieties got the best of her and she felt overwhelmed. She could feel the crunch of the sand beneath her boots. She could smell sea salt and yellow roses. She could feel the light breeze tickling her cheek. She curled her fingers into tiny fists and released the remaining tension. Now that she was outside again, the air felt purer… lighter even. Maybe Lewis was right. Maybe the place was haunted. But her rational, educated mind pressed there was no such thing as ghosts.
A tiny sneeze yanked her out of her thoughts. Her eyes snapped open. Jade focused on a wild patch of green dreadlocks peeping out from behind the fence. Her jaw dropped open as the hair magnificently seemed to bob and weave in the wind.
“Who… who are you?” she asked.
There was no reply, but a pair of frightened green eyes peeked over the edge of the fence. The eyes and hair belonged to a person… not a normal human. Jade had never seen a green-skinned person before. At first she worried it might be a member of the hostile alien race hell bent on destroying the star system. If they were the enemy, they were the shortest Xenosi she had ever seen, and by far, the most timid. Not that she had ever seen one in person. Not truly. Only in news reels and in pictures on the web. Still, the person did not have the look of a fierce Xek foot soldier.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” Jade said, raising her hands. “Do you understand me?”
The man squeaked, scampering up from his seat and hurrying past her back toward the docks.
“Wait… wait…” she called when he didn’t stop.
His vibrant green skin contrasted only slightly with his dark green sweater and olive green pants. He wasn’t like any supernatural she had ever seen, and she had only encountered a mermaid or two while in the Sulani islands. As he quickened his pace, a tiny shoot sprouted from his palm. As if even more afraid, he broke into a run. Jade chased the man away from the docks and up the hill.
“I just want to talk, please!” she pleaded, but to no avail.
Author Notes: Thanks for reading! Replicating the Junimos was next to impossible in game. So I decided that they are a supernatural race. You’ll find out more soon.
fifth of spring
“Well, that’s good,” Jade mumbled to herself, because she didn’t want a repeat of the former day.
Last night, she had once again embarrassed herself by hugging Sam. It didn’t matter that he was a good friend and a kind person. She hadn’t known him all that long, and yet she couldn’t deny the sparks she was feeling. Butterflies, one might call it. Floating around in her stomach and chest like frantic twirling ballerinas. No, she shook her head. Sam Archer had to be the furthest thing from her mind right now. She wasn’t ready.
Jade carried her breakfast outside – a peanut butter sandwich, with honey provided by her sweet neighbor Marnie. She was going to enjoy living near Good Cluck Ranch. She might even get used to Marnie’s puns. It was another dreary day, and the forecast said rain in the foothills. She didn’t mind the drizzle, but she did mind the cold, and the fact that the weather made for bad planting conditions. She decided to eat her sandwich, on a plate like a civilized person, as she walked the farm.
Upon discovering a building with glass walls and a roof, she smiled. It would be lovely to have herbs and fruit year round. A completed greenhouse would allow her to plant even on rainy and snowy days. She wondered why the structure was only half-completed. Jade decided to forage for wild seeds and nuts in the nearby ferns, but was unable to find anything useful – save what appeared to be a rusted plumbing part. Her phone jingled, startling her from the otherwise stillness of the morning. It was a text message from the mayor asking her to meet him at the docks.
As she moved from the foothills into the valley, the rain stopped. Clouds continued to float along lazily. Jade was grateful she wouldn’t be drenched on her walk as she collapsed her umbrella and left it in a nearby storage locker. The mayor’s cryptic message had said to prepare for a journey. When she approached the shoreline, she stepped from brick sidewalks onto plank walkways, surrounded by thrushes and reeds. The town flag thwapped against the pole in the breeze above a series of docks, a few covered. In the distance, she glimpsed a beautiful white lighthouse, ascending from a woody island.
Jade descended the gangplank, no one to be seen. Is this really where Lewis wanted her to meet? She wished she brought her fishing pole so she could practice her new skill set. Maybe another day. A stack of empty crates and a fishing crate sat along the dock, as did a ship’s wheel without a boat at the far end. A life preserver swayed beneath the light posts. This slip was surprisingly abandoned for mid-morning. She would have figured in a fishing community, people would be about, but perhaps all the fisherfolk shipped out to sea earlier.
Walking further down the dock, Jade gathered a closer look at the lighthouse. As close as she could being across the bay. There was something familiar about it… as though she had seen it before, or been there before. Jade dismissed the thought as wild as she heard the sound of cracking joints.
“Ah! Good morning, Farmer!” Mayor Lewis greeted, bending backward and tilting from side to side to crack his hip. “How are you on this pleasant morning?”
“Please. Jade. I’m well, I guess, Mister Mayor,” she shrugged. “As well as can be expected.”
“So, how was your first night in the old cottage?” he cleared his throat and adjusted his cap. “Your grandpa used to complain about the rickety old bed. But I think, deep down, he actually loved that house.”
“The bed is fine,” she crossed her arms, feeling slightly chilled by the onset wind. “I’m adjusting.”
“Well, are you ready to go?” Lewis inquired.
“Go where?” she asked.
“To the Lonely Rock, of course,” Lewis replied, as if it were obvious.
Jade shaded her eyes, even if the sun wasn’t too bright. She squinted, focusing on the distant beacon once more. “Lonely Rock,” she repeated quietly. “The name of the island, I assume. I feel like my dad may have mentioned the island before.”
“He would,” the mayor acknowledged. “He used to work in the lighthouse.”
“He did!?” she exclaimed. “I never knew that.”
“He never spoke of it?” Lewis’ eyes widened.
“Uh… no,” she shook her head. “I kinda recall our bungalow on the shore somewhere along here, some sandcastles on the beach…” she trailed off, neglecting to add ‘Papa Jack’s beard and Daddy and Mamma dancing in the living room once when they were happy.’ “Dad didn’t talk much about his life here. After Mamma left, we pretty much left too.”
“Yes, I was sorry to hear that,” Lewis said. “Jack told me about Daniela. A lovely woman, he said. Like yourself. We need a pretty farmer ’round these parts. You brighten up the place.”
Jade’s face twisted in shock. Not exactly the words she wanted to hear from a man old enough to be her grandfather. What about Marnie or one of the other female farmers in the area? And what did beauty have to do with her ability to farm. His half-smile under that curled grey mustache was unnerving. She hoped she wasn’t reading into anything.
“So we’re going to the island?” she asked with a frown.
“The ferry will be here any minute, though I’m skilled at yachting myself,” Lewis boasted.
“Why?” she placed her hands on her hips and eyed him suspiciously.
“An adventure,” he smiled and winked. “Don’t worry. I’ll have you back by dark. You’ll want to see what I have to show you. I think your dad would want you to.”
Leery, but curious, Jade decided to take the mayor’s hand and stepped aboard the Queen of the Gem Sea Ferry. If the good mayor tried anything, she might be forced to resort to martial arts training, and toss him overboard to the fishes. In college, it was the one class that she was willing to take for a P.E. credit and she was grateful she had.
Thankfully, Lewis kept the conversation light, focused on discussing his work as mayor and his upcoming reelection campaign. Jade listened with mild interest, mostly focused on the deep blue color of the Gem Sea, and the delightful waves lapping beneath the boat. She tried to recall any mention of the island or lighthouse from either parent, but nothing came to mind.
“Something isn’t it?” the mayor remarked as they stood on the dock at Short Port. “What a great view of Pelican Town!”
“I prefer to look forward,” she said, coolly, wanting to move along with the true nature of their mission.
The mayor nodded, taking the hint and walked up the gangplank. Jade followed, until she remembered she dropped her wallet in the boat. As she turned to retrieve it, a man in a navy blue trench coat, nearly clipped her with his bicycle.
“Beep beep!” he said, in a huff. “Watch where you’re going,” he literally gave her a single stink eye, since he had an eye patch covering the other.
“Oh, sorry sir,” Jade mumbled, though she was certain he was more at fault for failing to announce himself.
“Jade, you coming?” the mayor called impatiently.
Jade followed the mayor up a short hill with a twist of wooden walkways before they emerged on soft sand. She watched the cyclist pedal off in the distance, a dachshund barking at his heels.
“The islanders let dogs run wild over here,” the mayor shook his head.
“And you can’t do anything about it?” she said, in a mock-shocked tone.
Something about Mayor Lewis bothered her, but she couldn’t put her finger on it.
“It’s the unincorporated community of Deadgrass,” the mayor pulled out a handkerchief and blew his nose. “It technically doesn’t fall under my jurisdiction, save this patch of land. Not much here…” he waved his hand. “As you can see… a lighthouse, a fishing shack-town, a state park, and a graveyard.”
Jade stepped forward, and twisted her lower lip. “A graveyard…” she remarked.
“Yes, there’s a pet cemetery too,” he nodded. “Up that hill on the other side of the island.”
“How long has it been here?” she wondered.
“Hmm?” he said, kicking his right foot. “Darn sand in my shoes. You were smart to wear boots.”
She offered a faint smile. “It’s beachy. The cemetery?”
“Oh right,” Lewis acknowledged. “It’s been there for at least a hundred years. Deadgrass used to have a larger population, but most folks moved to Stardew Cove or Grampleton. The ferry only comes twice in the off season, and shuttles people to the park and museum.”
“And this?” she gazed up at a decrepit old wooden building. “What is this?”
“This…” he said. “Is why we’re here.”
“Really?” Jade crinkled her nose.
The walls were peppered with cracks, overgrown with vines, ivy, and climbing flowers. An ornate looking clock like something right out of a steampunk fanfic seemed to be stuck on ten minutes after nine, even though it was most definitely nearing eleven. Weeds cropped up around the porch, if you could call it that. More like a cracked stone step with a wooden frame. Two giant redwood pillars flanked the double door entrance, dwarfing the unlit gas lamps on either side.
“This is the Pelican Town Community Center, Jade,” the mayor said. “Or what’s left of it anyway. This is your father’s legacy.”
Jade glanced over her shoulder at the peeling paint on the front door with tarnished brass handles. “Some legacy, hmm?”
“Don’t joke,” Lewis said. “Your father… he built this community center plank by plank back in the day. When he was the lighthouse keeper, he tried to give the people of Deadgrass and Pelican Town some hope. He took in lots of troubled youth over the years. We didn’t exactly want them here, what with the gang violence, but they proved us wrong. Good workers, those boys.”
“Gang… gang… violence?” Jade choked back a cough.
Lewis sighed and lowered his eyes as if deeply saddened. “A child should know her heritage. You mean he never told you? Your father was deep in gangs before he came here.”
Jade flinched, thinking of Cash, her fiance, struck down by random gang violence. The mayor wasn’t making sense, saying stuff like this lighthouse was his lifeline, the community center his second chance, and her mamma – his saving grace. All she recalled of Daniela was monthly checks and walking out. She had never heard any of this. Matteo rarely talked about his days prior to living in Pine-Mesa City.
“Now look at it. What an eyesore!” he clicked his tongue. “Your daddy tried, but when your mamma ran off… he didn’t stick around, and this place fell into disrepair,” he sighed. “It used to be the pride and joy of the town. Always bustling with activity. People came for picnics and parties, cook-offs and summer camping trips…”
“Why am I here, Lewis?” Jade eyed the man sharply.
“I thought you might want to fix it up,” Lewis smiled slyly. “Being your father’s legacy and all.”
“You keep saying that,” she frowned. “This is the first I’m hearing about this. It’s a lot to digest.”
“I hear you have a degree in environmental engineering,” Lewis began. “And a M.S. in environmental studies. That you worked on ecological projects to better the water and air quality, and that you also were on the Board of Directors for a community center back home, no?”
“Yes,” she confirmed, reluctantly, as if the mayor reading her resume somehow qualified her to restore a lost town treasure.
“I’d like to greenify this space, and make it work again, bring it to life, bring back spirit to Stardew Cove, and Pelican Town,” the mayor replied. “The governor right agrees with me.”
“The governor?” she widened her eyes. “Of the Eastern Province?”
“That’d be right,” Lewis grinned. “He’s a good friend of mine. Very supportive of my work in politics. Cares about this community too. See he was born here in Deadgrass… grew up from a wee babe…” he rocked an imaginary child in his arms. “…to a graduate of Pelican High. Valedictorian. First in his class. I was second, you know,” he winked.
“Mister Mayor, the point please,” Jade said, slightly agitated.
“I’ve had a company hounding me to sell this place so they can turn it into a warehouse,” Lewis continued, straightening to his full height. “Pelican Town could really use the money and Yoba knows Deadgrass could use the profits, but there’s something stopping me from selling it. I guess, old timers like me get attached to relics of the past.”
“Oh… kay…” Jade trailed off. “I really don’t see what this has to do with me.”
“I’m gonna level with you, Jade. Pelican Town is struggling. We had to close the schools. We had to shut down the bus lines. We sold off the mines to big corporate. We haven’t had a good influx of new businesses or taxpayers in a long time,” Lewis said. “If we can bring this community center back to life, and then sell memberships, host events, rent out to out-of-towners for weddings, funerals, events, and the like, we could really turn this economy around.”
“I can’t pay you, but with your engineering and environmental expertise, I thought you could draft a plan to patch up the old girl. Maybe even recruit a few folks to help you. I can help you find the resources to rebuild. If we can show progress by summer, the Governor himself will personally invest the remaining funds to make the difference and get this place going again.”
“Mister Mayor,” Jade began. “I appreciate the offer, but I have a farm to turn around. I just started clearing out the place and I’ve got my hands full with renovating and cleaning and learning about farming. I’m not sure I have the time to help you here.”
“I’m sure there are folks in town who would be willing to help. And I’d be willing to barter… your services in exchange for things you need on the farm too,” Lewis offered.
“That’s very kind,” she shook her head. “But I need time to think about this.”
“This place is even more dilapidated than I remember, and it really needs some love,” Lewis said. “I think you’re the right girl for the job.”
She narrowed her eyes. Woman, Lewis, Woman! “But I’m not an architect.”
“You wouldn’t just be helping me out, but an entire town, and this whole island,” Lewis continued. “We could find you the architect. Right now, she needs more than just spit and polish. She needs a vision. Your father had that. Your grandfather had that. I was hoping you’d have it too.”
He’s guilt tripping hard... she gazed wistfully up toward the old clock. Mayor Lewis definitely had an angle. Project in full swing by summer. Governor gives funds. Mayor saves town. Mayor gets reelected this fall. It wasn’t hard to see through his agenda. Still, it could be a fun project and something to do while I work to get the farm profitable again.
Do me a favor,” Lewis said. “Go inside. Look around. You might even find some of your daddy’s old files and photos. Then think real hard. You’d be giving hope back to Pelican Town and Deadgrass. Then I wouldn’t have to sell to that big megacorp that’s been hounding me. Would be a darn shame. This old lady had character back in the day.”
“Uh, where are you going?” she asked when he turned to leave.
“Got business in Deadgrass. Gotta meet an old sailor,” Lewis replied.
“You mean, you’re not coming in there with me?” Jade quirked a brow.
“Heavens no… the place is said to be haunted. And creaky floorboards aren’t good for an old fart like me,” Lewis rubbed his back. “You’ll be fine. There’s a flashlight inside the door if you need it. The ferry leaves for the day at three. Feel free to wander and see some of the island too. The lighthouse is boarded up. Not in use anymore, but it’s still a pretty view.”
“Really?” she exclaimed. “That’s it?”
“Have fun,” he waved.
“Wait…” she called after him. “What did you say the name of the company was? You know the one that wants to buy this place?”
Author Notes: Dun… dun… dunn….. I wanted to give a little more backstory on why the mayor specifically wants Jade’s help rebuilding the community center. Also, I wanted to give him an angle. Lewis always seems to have an angle in the SDV game. He feels a bit shady to me, even if I think most of the time he means well. Also, he was super flirty at the beginning of the chapter. I kept thinking ‘no, no, no, no, and no.’ But per usual, I tried to take it and run with it. Jade reacted with disgust and mistrusted him the whole rest of the morning. I don’t blame the woman. Thanks for reading.
the fourth day of spring
Much to her surprise, Sam chased after Jade, calling her name and ignoring his surly cousin.
“Hey, wait up!” Sam shouted.
Jade quickened her pace as she rounded a fountain and rock formation near the town square. “I already said good night, Sam,” she sighed heavily, and muttered, “…and your damn cousin.”
“Jade… please,” he called, and she hoped he didn’t hear her expletives, though she felt they were justified. “I… I’m sorry… I feel awful… can you slow down? Wow… you… walk fast.”
“When I’m motivated,” Jade snipped, tugging her coat closer to her chest, though she knew he didn’t deserve her animosity. He did nothing wrong. “Please… Sam… I’m tired and I just want to go home.”
“No please,” he begged. “Don’t go home like this.”
“Like what, Sam!?” she whirled and waved her arms. “She doesn’t even know me and she treated me like… like…”
“I know,” he sighed, dropping his head in shame. “Like horse excrement.”
Jade let out a stymied laugh, oddly appreciative of his kind way of saying something mean. “Uh… sure… you could say that.”
“I had no idea she would feel that way,” Sam said. “I have no idea why she reacted the way she did. She’s jetlagged and maybe she’s just pissed off because her parents aren’t here again even though she came home to see them. There’s no excuse for it and please let me apologize on behalf of my family. And I understand if you never, ever, I mean never want to see me again.”
“You did nothing wrong,” she said, her tone softening. “It’s okay. I’m not mad at you.”
“I mean, never,” he continued, for emphasis as he squinted his eyes. “I wouldn’t blame you. I promise.”
“Sam, I believe you,” Jade said. “I actually did meet Emily now that I think about it. Completely different.”
“Yeah my cousins are like night and day different,” Sam admitted. “And thank you. It means a lot to me that you would say that. I can go now if you like. I’m sure you don’t want to see me.”
“I never said that,” Jade protested. “I like hanging out with you and I appreciate you coming over here to apologize, even though it’s not your fault.”
“Really?” he squeaked, uncertain, scratching his clean shaven chin.
“Yes, really,” Jade bobbed her head.
“Can I walk you home?” he offered. “I don’t need to talk if you want to just have peace and quiet. Or we can talk about something else or whatnot. I like your company too.”
“I’m going by the Saloon,” she replied. “You can walk with me there.”
“Okay,” he grinned, though she could see the eagerness in his eyes as he probably hoped she would let him accompany her all the way to the farm.
“I’m really sorry again,” Sam said, gently.
Jade spun around and pointed a finger at him. “Stop apologizing.”
“Seriously, Sam, you didn’t do anything wrong, and as a wise person pointed out to me today, don’t apologize for things that aren’t your fault.”
Sam’s shoulders tensed and relaxed his shoulders. “Alright,” he let out an exasperated sigh.
“You seem like a great guy, and whatever your family does or says isn’t your responsibility and you shouldn’t apologize for Haley’s bad behavior when she needs to take responsibility for her own…” she crinkled her nose. “…horse excrement…” she tried out Sam’s words.
He laughed. “Yeah, you can say shit. Sorry… I mean… not sorry… I just don’t like swearing. But she did say some pretty shitty things.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” she replied.
“I… uh… met Penny too,” Jade confessed, and then kicked herself for bringing it up as Sam just stared without saying a word. “She’s learning Komorebigo… and I know a little too. She seems nice.”
“Um… Penny and I are just friends…” Sam shared. “I mean,” a hint of pink reached his cheeks. “We went to prom together, but it doesn’t mean anything. I’ve never like dated her or kissed her or anything. I’ve never kissed anyone actually and no one’s kissed me… oh wow! That…” the red in his cheeks deepened. “I didn’t mean to say that. It’s just… we’re friends… and Penny’s nice and all, but I’m not looking to date her or marry her or anything… and did it get hotter out here or what?” he gulped, playing with the zipper of his blue leather coat.
“You don’t owe me an explanation,” Jade lifted her hand. “Remember, I’m the one who told you about my dead fiancé the first day we met.”
“Yeah,” he chuckled uncomfortably. “How’s that going?”
She frowned, feeling the lump form in her throat. Not a day went by that she didn’t think about Cash, or miss him, his arms, his touch, his presence. But she was trying to move on the best way she knew how, one foot in front of the other, one day at a time.
“I’m sorry,” Sam shook his head and averted his eyes. “I shouldn’t have asked.”
“It’s hard,” she surprised herself as she responded. “And you’re kind for inquiring. I don’t really talk to anyone about it. Some days I try not to think about it. It’s impossible. But I try. Nights are the hardest. And all the weird noises on the farm and those creaky walls don’t help.”
“I can help with that,” Sam grinned. “Uh… I mean… not like staying over or anything, but fixing your roof. I got some skills. And I’m here for you. Anytime you need to talk. Or not talk. Or just be. I know I talk a lot… like a lot a lot, but I am a good listener and a good talker… if you just need to talk out things… or if you want someone to bounce thoughts and feelings off of. You know?”
“Really? I’d appreciate it,” she said, overwhelmed with emotions, and before she could stop herself, she leaned in and fully embraced him.
He smelled of citrus and clove spice, and soft musky aftershave. His arms felt familiar, even if she only just met him, like they had been friends for years. Sam fully leaned into her hug and squeezed lightly, but not in an overwhelming or uncomfortable way. She needed this. Human touch. To feel whole. And real. And alive again. Something clicked inside her heart as if a switch was flipped and for the first time in months, she let down her guard. But it was too early. Too soon. Too much of Sam reminded her of Cash and that wasn’t fair to him.
“I barely know you,” she whispered. “…and already you’re a good friend.”
He took a moment to reply. “I know. I try.”
Author Notes: Do these two have pink in their bar? I’m not saying a word… not one single word. 😉
the fourth day of spring
Jade enjoyed a lovely afternoon at the ranch. Marnie showed her the ropes of feeding the chickens, collecting eggs, baling hay, and calling in the cows in the evening with her trusty cattle dog. She was a patient teacher with a great sense of humor and seemed to effortlessly invoke joy in everything she did. After spending with Marnie, Jade already admired her greatly. Even with the rain, Jade appreciated the experience, and it got her mind off the miserable day and overwhelming effort it would take to turn around her grandpa’s farm. After a hard day’s work, Jade was ready for a hot shower and looked forward to frying up her eggs in a pan over her fireplace.
She decided to take a different route home, through Pelican Town. Marnie had mentioned Gus stocked a delicious Romalian white grape wine from the local vineyards, which would pair nicely with scrambled eggs and toast. Jade hoped to pop into the Saloon before heading back to the farm, and she was grateful for the detour too. There were so many unexplored places she had yet to discover. Walking along the brick pathways, Jade passed a grassy graveyard surrounded by a cheerful picket fence. Perhaps sometime when her bones didn’t ache, she could come back and take a look around. There was something peaceful about a cemetery, a place where people wouldn’t talk back and would just listen.
Jade knew she had reached town when she saw signs of civilization – two quaint homes, one pale blue with a brown roof and white trim, and the other a creamy off-white with tan trim and a reddish brown roof. Sam walked toward the blue home and waved, passing by a young woman with bright blonde hair. Jade stopped and smiled, walking toward her new friend.
“Hey Sam,” she said.
“Hey Jade, the butterfly girl!” he grinned. “Good to see ya. How’s it going?”
She grimaced. “Butterfly?” she flushed and brought a hand to her cheek. “Oh you remember that.”
He grinned. “Oh I do. Don’t worry,” he zipped his lips and lowered his voice. “Your secret is safe with me. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Nothing coming out of this place. Not a darn thing.”
“Uh… okay…” Jade giggled, hesitantly.
“Mum’s the word. Won’t tell a soul in the world,” he promised, and then waved wildly over his shoulder. “Oh you gotta meet my cousin.”
“Your cousin?” Jade replied, smirking to herself over Sam’s insistence of staying silent and yet continuing to talk incessantly about not saying anything.
“What is it that you aren’t going to tell, Sam?” the petite blonde inquired. She sashayed her hips in her cute pink jean skirt as she clicked across the cobblestones. “Ugh… Sam who is this?”
Embarrassed, Jade glanced down at her torn jeans, mud-soaked boots, and stained sweater. Marnie had lent her a rain jacket earlier so she didn’t dirty her coat, but even so she didn’t look as presentable as Sam’s darling cousin. Jade placed her hands on her hips.
“Excuse me?” she said defensively.
“Who’s this?” Sam exclaimed, unaware of the tension between the two ladies. “This is my new girl friend. Well, she’s a friend… and a girl…uh… er… a lady woman…” he chuckled awkwardly and rubbed the back of his head. “She’s uh… new in town… and uh… she’s great, Hales.”
“Yes, I’m Jade,” she dropped her arms so as not to appear rude, though she was certain the other woman wasn’t offering the same courtesy as she eyed her up and down.
“Oh,” Haley remarked, arching her unimpressed perfectly plucked eyebrows as she mimicked Jade’s moves. “You’re the new farmer or whatever, aren’t you? I’m Haley.”
“Yeah, I moved into my grandpa’s farm on Sunday,” Jade said, tersely.
“Haley is my cousin. She visits for like a few weeks at a time and then pops off to some exotic destinations across the world, you know, like Sulani and uh… she went to Del Sol Valley for a real movie premier,” Sam continued, completely oblivious to any tension between the two women. “Can you believe that? Front row seats like some celebrity.”
Haley smiled and twirled her beachy blonde waves. “In the third section, Sam, it’s hardly celebrity status.”
“Hales is a photographer,” Sam enthused. “Isn’t that great? And she lives next door. There…” he pointed. “And I live here. Oh and Emily lives there.”
“Who’s Emily?” Jade wrinkled her nose.
“My sister…” Haley said. “Yeah, I could tell from your clothes that you are a farmer… They’re um… something else,” she tried to smother a laugh. “You might actually be cute if you didn’t… dress… like that. I mean, Sam… come on… you’re bound for the big city with your music and you go for…”
“Hey, now hold on a second!” Jade said, defensively. “We’re just friends… and even if we weren’t… why would you say something like that?”
“Because you smell like grass,” Haley sniffed. “No one decent smells like grass.”
“And yet you live in a farm town,” Jade placed her hands on her hips.
“I’m visiting. Vi..si…ting…” Haley emphasized. “As in vis-i-tor… only… do I need to spell it out for you?”
“Right… well, God speed,” Jade said flippantly.
“Why? You trying to get rid of me so soon?” Haley asked in a mock hurt tone.
“Yes,” Jade said, exasperated. “Seems like we would be better off for it if you take that big city attitude elsewhere.”
“Jade!” Sam exclaimed.
“And we would be better off if that old farm rotted,” Haley rolled her eyes. “That old man never did anything for this town.”
“Haley!” Sam grunted, and narrowed his eyes. “Where is this hostility coming from?”
“I don’t know… the weather. PMS. Or maybe just a certain new farmer,” Haley replied, nonchalantly.
“You don’t know me,” Jade raised her voice, waving her hands in frustration.
“Yeah and you don’t know us. And Sammy here is dating my best friend, Penny, so back off, girlfriend!” Haley shouted, balling her fists.
“Hey, that’s enough!” Sam yelled. “Haley, what’s wrong with you? She is new in town and you’re treating her like a… a… jerk!”
“You mean bitch?” she replied, and patted Sam on the shoulder in a patronizing manner. “You know I’m doing this for your good.”
“My good?” his eyes widened. “How is this doing anyone good? You are acting in a… a…” he huffed in aggravation. “A terrible, terrible way right now. I’m trying to introduce you and you flip out on her… and Penny and I…”
“You know what?” Jade interjected. “I’m leaving. Good to see you, Sam,” she managed genuinely. “Good night,” she turned and listened to Haley say, “Yeah, you walk away.”
She didn’t care.
Author Notes: Ooo boy! Haley was…something else in this chapter. I always felt like her treatment of the farmer upon first meeting in the Stardew Valley game was rude, but this, in the Sims, was like next level. Haley initiated a “rude introduction” and it went downhill from there. Such a contrast to the former chapter. Thanks for reading.
the fourth day of spring
Marnie’s kitchen was cozy, same pale rosy wallpaper as the shop and wooden plank boards, all the essentials, and a sideboard with four chairs. Jade particularly loved all the little personal touches – the blue polka-dotted coffee mug, a bright orange teapot, a collection of silk autumn leaves as a centerpiece, the yellow flowered curtain covering the lower cabinets instead of traditional doors. The table was handcrafted by Robin, Marnie shared, and was the centerpiece of her home.
“Everything happens here…” she said. “Birthdays, anniversaries, family conversations, laughter, tears. The work we do on Good Cluck Ranch is celebrated right here. I believe life is defined by what happens around my dinner table.”
“That’s a beautiful thought,” Jade smiled, thinking of her own meals shared with her dad and stepmom. She only wished these types of dinners had happened earlier while she was growing up. “Thank you for your hospitality.”
“You’re welcome anytime, honey,” Marnie offered. “I only wish Shane would’ve joined us…” she trailed off, a look of wistful sadness crossing her face, evaporating as she continued talking.
“And my niece, Jas is at school,” she took a bite of the noodles. “We had to shut down the Pelican Town Elementary when the funds dried up. It killed Lewis… er… the mayor to do it, but we just couldn’t afford to keep it going as a community. When they rezoned, the kids started getting bussed to Grampleton.”
“That’s tough,” Jade shared, sympathetically. “I went to a few different schools myself growing up. Change is hard on kids, especially when you don’t want to leave your friends.”
“Jas was little when she came to live with me. I hoped to always keep her right here in Stardew, but Grampleton ain’t so far. I drive her every day now that the bus lines aren’t so reliable,” Marnie said. “Plus Grampleton’s got the best orange chicken.”
“I’ll have to take a trip out there sometime,” Jade replied. “How far of a drive is it?”
“Forty minutes one way,” Marnie said.
“That’s dedication…” Jade nodded. “…to drive her every day. She must appreciate it.”
“I’m the only mom she’s ever known,” Marnie said, softly. “I never had kids of my own… just wasn’t in the stars. My sister passed when Jas was a babe and suddenly I got a fussy tot and an angry teenager all at once. It was a blessing from the heavens in disguise.”
“I’m sorry for your loss,” Jade murmured, glancing down at her plate.
Marnie shook her head, and forced a smile. “Don’t be sorry, honey. Don’t ever apologize for things that ain’t your fault. We women…. we always apologizin’ for things that ain’t our fault. Don’t do that.”
Jade winced. “You’re right. Wise words.”
“I know… I been ’round the block a time or two,” Marnie wiped her mouth on a napkin. “Now let’s not talk about depressin’ things. You didn’t come here for that. Would you like some tea with your noodles?”
Jade had so many questions. Like what happened to Marnie’s sister and the father and what Shane’s beef was and how raising two kids must have been tough. Losing a parent at a young age was hard. She knew. She remembered. That wasn’t an excuse to have a chip on one’s shoulder and be rude to strangers. But none of those inquiries were appropriate. Her overly curious mind would have to wait.
“Thank you. Yes,” she bobbed her head. “I’d love some tea.”
Author Notes: Thanks for reading. I thought it was funny that there was already a plate of garlic noodles in the kitchen. Marnie called everyone to a meal and Jade was included. Neither Shane nor Leah joined though.