It is early afternoon and Emily and Haley are sitting on the couch in their home, talking together as the time approaches when Emily will have to leave for her job at the saloon. Both are watching the ocean outside their front window, and listening to the rhythmic sound of the waves.
Em: "Look at that thin line of two blues where the ocean meets the sky. I'd love to capture those colors in a dress that I'm making."
Ha: "It is beautiful. Can I model your dress?" (Hands Emily her phone). "Look at this movie I took of sandpipers running in and out of the surf."
Em: "So cute! Even the baby ones are pretty good at not getting their feet wet."
Ha: "Hey Emmy, what do you think of the new farmer guy, Lee?"
Em: "Lee? He seems nice. Other than Hi and Goodbye, I've never ever spoken to him since he moved into the valley. You and I both have seen him at the community events. Why do you ask?"
Ha: "Just curious. When I first met him, he was all dirty and smelly and totally unattractive. But when he found grandmother's bracelet at the beach, he was better dressed, and something changed."
Em: "Watch out Haley. You might find yourself on a farm someday!"
Ha: "Me? Ha Ha! Not a chance." Anyway, now I have two of the bracelets, as I found a matching one in the attic."
Em: "Sometimes he does nice things for others at the saloon, but most of the time he keeps to himself. Still, he's not so bad looking. He has big brown eyes and a nice tan."
Ha: "I once saw Maru give him a long look."
Em: "That means nothing. Maru would show goo-goo eyes at a male mechanical robot."
Ha (laughing): "That's so true."
Em (holding up her arms and spinning her hands): Using my crystal sense, I feel that Lee has a bright green aura."
Ha: "Uh . . . What? A green aura?"
Em: "Yes. It can mean that he is someone who is a good listener, one who could help you heal from hurts. He also would be attracted to green things, like forests, and plants."
Ha: "Green eggs and ham?"
Em: "No silly goose! But without knowing why, his attention would be drawn to a green dress, green ribbons and bows, green gemstones in a ring or pendant. You know, Haley, I love it when we talk together like this. You're may favorite sister."
Ha: "I'm your only sister."
Em: "You and I, we're here to support one another."
Ha: "I've always felt so squeezed in by this tiny village, and I'd wear my pretty dresses, curl my hair, and put on my makeup, almost as a way of rebelling and showing how out of place I felt."
Em: "You don't seem that way right now."
Ha: (laughing): "I don't know. Strange, it's like the lighting outside became so much better. I enjoy going out with my camera more. I'm making more 8 x 10's. The summer heat doesn't seem to bother me as much. It's so many things.
Em: "Maybe you're running a temperature. When's your next checkup with Doctor Harvey?"
Ha: "Not for a while yet. No, No. I'm fine. Here, feel my forehead. See. Nothing. I just feel a bit more energized. Question. Would you mind terribly if I asked Robin to come by and help me add a small darkroom on to my bedroom?"
Em: "Not at all. I'm happy when you are happy." (Emily breaks into a song). "You are my sister, my only sister. You make me happy when skies are grey." (Emily, laughing), "I love you favorite sister."
Ha: (also laughing): "Stop! Now you're the silly one."
Em: (laughing): I love you, favorite sister."
Ha: "I love you too. Now get out of here and go to work."
Having mastered the fur wars, Hoppy was not too pleased when the human built a coop close to his pond. Soon it was populated with a chicken and a bunny. Of the two, Hoppy genuinely liked the friendly bunny. It was soft grey in color, and the human called her "Carrots". Hoppy talked to Carrots through a gap in the fence, and found out that Carrots was not fond of purple veggies, but really liked wild grass. "That's fine." Hoppy tactfully added that he didn't like purple veggies either. It was a different story with "Mrs. Cluck". The opening round of the feather wars saw Mrs. Cluck escape through a broken fence post, and catch Hoppy unawares (Hoppy's eyes were on Weasel the cat, sunning himself by the broken-down greenhouse). Hoppy had to make a circular route to the pond, chased the whole time by a pecking, oversized and feathered, Tyrannosaurus Rex. Finally, he was able to collapse safely on lily pad, so exhausted that all he could manage was to stick out his tongue at the angry bird. Round two, came a few days later. Again the chicken got loose, but this time Hoppy managed to quietly sneak up behind Mrs. Cluck, who was standing on the ledge of the pond, peering down at the water in search of the frog. As he closed in, he found himself next to two giant yellow pillars of legs, holding up a canopy of feathers. Hoppy suddenly gave his best shove, and the chicken toppled into the pond. Mrs. Cluck was no duck. But between squawking, and flapping, she floated enough to make it back to the shore. Once out of the water, she gave the laughing frog a death glare that promised to remember this moment forever. Another negative of the nearby coop was that whenever it rained hard, a stream of chicken manure runoff made its way into Hoppy's pond. Disgusting stuff, it fostered the growth of algae. Once, Hoppy accidentally tried to surface in the middle of a blob of the weed and ended up with his nose and eyes covered with green icky goo. Okay. One vote yes for the rabbit. Two votes no for the chicken.
The sun has set on a rainy day. Hoppy looks up and can no longer see the clouds that moments before were scudding by. The rain has also let up, and now falls as a filmy curtain, gently bringing on the night. It is time for singing, and as Hoppy climbs to the high side of his pond, he gives out in his best baritone, "Some enchanted evening . . . You will see a stranger." "Will see a stranger." What was that? An echo? Hoppy loved echo effects. The return notes even had a pleasantly higher pitch than his voice. Even louder he bellowed out, "You will see a stranger . . . " "See a stranger." "Across a crowded room.""Crowded room." This is so much fun. Why haven't I heard this before? Maybe it has something to do with the rain. "And suddenly you'll know . . ." "You'll know.""You'll know even then . . ." "Then.""That somehow you'll see her again and again." "You'll see him again and again." Wait a minute, did my ears deceive me? "Hello echo." "Hello!" And out of the gloom hopped another frog. Panting a bit from the exertion, she said, "That was a long trip. I followed your voice in the night like a lighthouse lighting up the way. You're a great singer. Look, I have goosebumps the size of warts. Oh Hi! I'm Rana." Hoppy didn't know whether he was more astonished, delighted, or simply stunned. He kind of fumbled out with a, "Hi, I'm Hoppy." Rana, looking about, "What a cute little pond!" Time screeched to a halt for Hoppy, as he stared at a pair of rain sparkled eyes, slim hips, long green legs. He managed to wake himself in time to croak, "Where did you come from?" She replied, "Do you mind if I check out the water?" Without waiting for an answer, Rana dove in, making hardly a splash. Hoppy could only sit and wait, as the rain made little circles in the water. Finally, after what seemed forever, she surfaced on the opposite side. "Algae? Algae! You have algae. This is so wonderful. Tadpoles love this stuff, you know." It was somewhere about this precise moment that Hoppy knew his quiet life was about to change. Previous to this moment, Hoppy had never quite figured out why South American frogs did not fall off the bottom side of the earth and drift off into space. In a flash of insight, he now understood in so many ways what it felt like to have one's world turned upside down. Yes, indeed, his life was about to change alright. In the back of his mind, he could hear that song again, "Once you have found her never let her go. Never . . . let . . . her . . . go!"
Woke up to the blare of the TV with a country voice reminding me that the berries are ripe on those bushes, "So git out there and start pickin!" Berry picking is one of my favorite times. As I hustle to get those morning farm chores out of the way, my mind is on berries, for morning cereal, for jam, pies, gifts, and gold. Outside, in the bright sun and blue sky, I open a chest that is overflowing with sunflower seeds, grab some and scatter them for the birds. Yesterday's fresh rain has left a green sheen over the farm, overlaid with a fresh earthy smell. I look around for a gift for the wizard. It is always smart when you have a wizard for a neighbor to stay on his good side. With a hop to my step, I cruise past the watering pond, where I hear the familiar plop of a frog hitting the water. Wait. Was that one plop or two? I head South, for Cindersap forest. Everywhere I look, there are partially hidden bushes full of berries. It is very much like being on an Easter egg hunt, without the Abigale. Seeing the way open to the hidden forest, I decide to search there as well. Often, when I'm out to harvest hardwood, there are pesky slimes to contend with. My rule is to mostly dodge them, and not bother them if they don't bother me. Today, they seem strangely occupied. Perhaps it is mating season. I've near given up on the stone statue, having tried strawberry jam, flower honey, you name it, all for no response. The pond, in contrast, seems more inviting. Even though I'm pressed for time, here in a magical place, it is impossible to resist testing the waters. I cast out a line, and quickly get a bite . . . maybe it is something unusual . . . maybe it's a . . . bleah, carp. Time to move on for a quick visit to the wizard's tower. I give him one of my top-quality strawberries, and I think that maybe he mumbled thank you. More likely, it is just his way of hinting that I should be grateful to have escaped intact without being turned into a toad or worse. Now it is on to more shake and collect. Still picking, I end up approaching the mouse house. My initial plan was to pass by unobserved, but there are several full bushes close by.
Do you sometimes see someone who you simply dread to meet (for whatever reason), or the door you do not want to open, the place you do not want to go? Me, I'm terrible when it comes to looking directly into the face of poverty. Driving to Joja every day, as one got closer to the office, my heart bled to see the street lined with round little tents, and the hopeless sleeping on piles of rags. I hated the stop lights, with toothless men holding out hand scrawled signs. These and other memories I superimposed over this poor mouse in his run-down shack. Someone could say, "But Lee, it is just a cute little mouse selling hats. Look with your eyes, not with your mind." But I still saw the ghosts. And now, here was that hat mouse, smiling and waving, beckoning to me to come on over and bring my coins. Grrrr. I do not even like wearing hats. The mouse seems overwhelmingly glad to see me, and politely I take my time to look over all the hats. Given the number of holes in the roof, it's amazing that the merchandise was not soaked by last night's rain. My eye catches one hat in particular. It is a Santa hat. I happen to be a Christmas fanatic. And here in a jingly little shop, with a merry little mouse, a new ghost appears. This one reminds me that my past no longer exists. I'm the only person in the whole world carrying those memories. More importantly, that what we see in others is much like looking at a mirror reflecting how we see ourselves on the inside. Those images of the street were memories of my past, when I was just as impoverished on the inside equal to what I was seeing on the outside. It's my own stinky attitude that feeds my fears. The realization that I'm an idiot, lifts my spirits. I purchase the Santa hat, and make a mental note that come Christmas, I will pack a dozen of my best cheeses, as a gift for this mouse. Cheeses for the meeses, like the Grinch, I hope that my heart too, can grow three sizes larger.
Back to picking and shaking. I cross over the bridge, island, bridge combination to the Southern edge of Cindersap forest and run into a bear asking for a carp. This must be my be kind to animals day. Luckily, I just happen to have one. I hand it over, and now, unluckily, he wants a pizza. "Sorry Mr. Bear, not today." Crossing the bridge to the Northeastern edge of the forest, I see Haley taking pictures. I give her a wide berth to stay out of her frames, having learned the hard way not to bug her when she's taking pictures. Out of the corner of my eye, I see two bushes hidden behind Leah's house, and grab those berries. Now in the far distance, I can see Haley wave, but it is too late. The night is calling, and I've got to get home.
Thanks for all the likes, Nohardant. Just about the time I think that I am the only person reading this story, along comes someone like you to remind me to maybe add another chapter. FYI in the next chapter, I will include some very old Italian themes just for you.
It is Spirit's Eve, and Linus and the Wizard are sitting together on the embankment overlooking the maze and central square. As the clock strikes ten, Linus turns to the wizard, "How do you always do it, Wiz, getting us such high-priced balcony seats to overlook the amphitheater." "Yes." replies the wizard, "From here you can see and hear everything, and the show is about to start. This year I fetched a couple of skeletons from the desert mines. Let's see if a villager sticks his hand in the pen. They still can chomp if you get too close," he continued. "Let me activate them before anyone sees them." The wizard begins to chant, "Snout of fly, mosquito bill, with kin of all conditions. Frog in leaves and crickets shrill. These are the skeletons."
The first villagers entering the scene are Jas and Vincent, whining and griping about not being able to enter the maze. Each are appropriately shushed, and now they mope about bitterly disappointed. More villagers appear. The bold and the brave look towards the maze expectantly, the less bold and less brave look towards the picnic tables topped off with fortifying wine, and plenty of other goodies. Pierre works at setting up his stand near the maze entrance (his not so obvious way of avoiding going into said maze). The doctor makes a great show of being the first to enter, a show that was all pretense, as he goes no further than hiding in the brush. The wizard dryly comments, "He behaves like a decent Pantalone." Next up was Maru, who sincerely tried to make progress, but simply kept getting turned around and more and more confused. Linus began to laugh, "Stupenda e la commedia! Put a stopwatch on her to see how long she's lost." Others entered the maze, only to get stuck along the way, but the wizard's eyes were on Alex and Haley as they approached the entrance. "Here arrives our Columbina," observed the wizard. Alex did his best to persuade Haley to enter, but she was having no part of it, and eventually he left her and went on in alone. Using his height, Alex was able to go rather deep into the brush, and even to see the finish, but still more greenery blocked his progress. Haley stood by the entrance, darting glances at the open portal, then quickly looking away as fright overcame her wish to check and see if Alex was okay. Linus pointed towards Shane, who seemingly was torn between the dish of lobster bisque placed on Emily and Leah's table, and the moving skeletons. As he walked over and put his hands on the fence, one of the skeletons turned in his direction and muttered in a low whispery, raspy voice, "You. You resting on my fence. You want a break? You want a break?? I'll give you a break. Which bone?" Lightening quick, Shane pulls his hands back off the fence. Lobster bisque one, skeletons zero.
Linus points out that the farmer, Lee, is walking to join the event. The wizard replies, "Ah, yes. Our Silvio enters from stage left. Let's listen in." Lee walks out into the center of the square, taking in all the sights, the background chatter of many voices, the rattle of skeleton bones, and the looming maze entrance as the object of attraction. He then glances at Pierre's wares, before drifting over to where Haley is still pacing. "Hi Haley. You look really worried." Haley replies, "I am. Alex has been in the maze for over ten minutes." "How many villagers have gone in? "Oh, at least eight or ten," she answers. "How many have come out?" "None, so far." Lee continues to pump questions at Haley. "This is my first Spirit's Eve. What is so important about the maze?" "There is a golden pumpkin prize to the one who finds it." "Does anyone ever get hurt?" "Alex says that there are things that can grab you, that its dark, and the bushes have sharp thorns." "What about you, have you ever tried going in?" "Me? No never. it is way too scary." Lee's eyes drift towards the green ribbons in Haley's hair. The contrast of the ribbons dancing amongst the golden curls in the flickering torchlight was mesmerizing. And for once, Alex is not present. "You know, Haley, that this is my first time to explore the maze. Perhaps we could go in together." "No! No!! No!!!" Haley looks genuinely horrified at the suggestion. Lee was hoping to suggest that they could hold hands so that neither of them could get separated from the other, but now rejected the idea. What takes more courage, entering the maze or striking out with a pretty girl? "Haley, it doesn't do you any good to pace here and be upset. Why not join your sister at the tables. I'm going to go in, and if I run into Alex, I will tell him how worried you are." "Okay. Just don't take as long as Alex." The wizard and Linus watch as Lee starts out in the maze. After two turns, Lee pauses at the television. The wizard tells Linus, "One of my better ideas. It's just random noise on the screen, but the human brain loves to form images even where none exist. Those that see images are convinced that what they are seeing is real." Lee pulls himself away from the television and eventually catches up to Alex. After relaying Haley's message, he plunges deeper into the zigzagging paths, and runs into Sam, who is perplexed that the maze seems to stop. When he accidentally decides to take a different route to return, Lee discovers the secret continuation of the maze, and finds the golden pumpkin. The wizard and Linus look at each other. "Bravo, we have a winner." says Linus. After exiting the maze, Lee heads for the table with Emily and Haley, Shane and Leah. "I saw Alex, and told him that you were worried. He's fine, but still wants to find that pumpkin. Speaking of pumpkins, Emily, you have really outdone yourself carving all these faces." Emily beams at the compliment, and points to a half-eaten blackberry pie. "Help yourself," she suggests. There really wasn't any place to sit down, so after chopping and plating out a slice, Lee looked to the other tables. But before leaving, he let Emily peek into his backpack, where the golden pumpkin lay gleaming in the night. The wizard tells Linus, "Emily will tell her sister what she saw later." Linus replies, "La commedia e finite."
The sound of hammering echoed off the bus, as Woody pecked at a tree. When the human farmer appeared, walking along the nearby path, Woody disappeared in a flash of cardinal crest and white feathers. As guardian of the forest, Woody carefully sampled the health of each and every tree. That last tree was a maple, and Woody had tasted plenty of sap to tide the tree over during the long leafless winter. Woody had felt so helpless when he found both an oak and a maple with parasitic-like tappers in them, slowly milking the life out of the luckless trees. When it came to brains, Woody would put male humans on the dumbness scale and give them a six, slightly more dumber than average. Some days, the human farmer just made Woody feel like a clam sitting in chowder. Still, most of what Woody called the Northern forest had remained intact after the human had moved in. There was even a row of new fruit trees growing along the ridge. Although not really a fruit eater, Woody had picked a cherry for Wilma on her birthday. Woody's new favorite region was a patch of mahogany trees planted by the human last spring. Now they stood tall and melted in with the rest of the forest. Thinking back, Woody could remember when they were only sprout-lings, competing with wild grasses for access to sunlight.
One bitterly cold afternoon, Woody and Wilma flew together to the Southern facing cliffs to catch a few rays of the faded sun. As they headed home, they started to hear the first inklings of what was rapidly becoming a chirping uproar by most of the birds in Cindersap forest, talking about something happening in the Northern forest. After depositing Wilma, Woody flew rapidly on to investigate. There, where once stood a magnificent stand of trees, all were gone. It was hard to imagine that all were gone, and Woody stared heartbroken at the ecological disaster. Yesterday's snow was torn to shreds, but no stumps, no branches, not even seeds, remained. Only a human could have done this. With a selection process that was as remarkable as it was cruel, the human had ravished only the hardwood mahogany trees. Woody briefly felt a twinge of guilt, as his own nesting tree (farther to the South) had survived.
Wasting no time, Woody surveyed the damage to the wildlife. The squirrels had escaped by leaping from branch to branch, but of course their home was lost. Woody told them of an old evergreen with sufficient scrap material for a new nest. Although the rabbit's home was underground, they were all badly shaken when each tall tree fell and crashed to the ground, sounding like an earthquake. Now Mrs. Rabbit and the bunnies were out, wandering about in the broken snow looking stunned and lost. The teenage owls were freezing in the snow. They could only fly a short distance, so Woody quickly offered them temporary shelter in his nest, while their parents searched for new accommodations. Later in the evening, while Wilma babysat the owls, Woody dipped into his seed supply and flew out a supper for the squirrels. As he raced through the night air, it began to snow again. Like straightening out the covers on a well-made bed, the gently falling snow filled in the brown patches and smoothed over the gashes in the ground until nothing remained but the ghosts of trees and memories.
The days race by so fast in winter, and the Feast of the Winter Star is rapidly approaching. Inside my cabin, I've spent quite a bit of time setting up and decorating a huge Christmas tree close (but not too close) to the cheerily lit fireplace. As an icebreaker for the feast, the village plays the game, "Secret Santa", and my assigned villager is Leah. I kept the golden pumpkin from the Spirit's Eve event, and it should be perfect for her. I don't care if she sells it or cooks it, just as long as she feels like it is a WOW gift. With no crops to tend to, at the moment I have this crazy idea that rather than playing Secret Santa to only one person, I'll create and give out lots of gifts as a way of showing my appreciation to the people of Stardew village. So, while the snow is falling outside, here I am, running back and forth from workshop to house, planning, preparing, and wrapping for the big day. Here's my list for those that live on Willow Lane. Shane was easy. I have a void egg warming in the incubator. The black chick will hatch a day or two before the celebration. Yesterday, I found a little mostly frozen and hungry baby bunny out by the frog pond. This little guy will be perfect for Marni. Jas was a bit trickier. I purchased an aquarium from Willy and took it apart in my work-shed. Starting with a flat base of mahogany wood about one foot square, I nailed on some one-inch-high sides, and a latch for a hinged glass cover, making it look like a jewelry box. It's a feather collection box, and I started her out with a big black crow's feather, one from an orange oriole, a red cardinal feather, a white woodpecker's, and even a green duck feather (a late contribution from Quackers). I used the same concept for Kent, only with a much larger glass-topped cabinet that will hang vertically, into which I arranged those swords and daggers that I acquired over the past year, but no longer need (iron dirk, elf blade, silver saber, and dark sword). I had just enough wood and glass left over, so I made a miniature wood bottomed, glass aquarium for Vincent. I took the stone from a glow ring, ground it into dust, and poured the dust into the worm feeder. I transferred out a few worms, added some dirt and mulch, and now Vincent will have glow-in-the-dark worms in his aquarium. Fresh fruit is in short supply in the valley during winter, but my trees are still producing in the greenhouse, so on the evening of the Feast, I plan to build Jodi a Christmas tree-like tower of fruit, starting with four big oranges on the base, and moving upward in size from peaches, apples, pomegranates, apricots, and topped off with a star made of cherries, all held together with toothpicks. A variety six pack of gemstones should be perfect for Emily. For Haley, I smashed a rainbow seashell, and then glued the pieces onto a tall drinking glass. The sharp edges were filled in with grout, and the entire vase shimmers in blue. Again, from the greenhouse, on the day of the event, I will pick two dozen iridium quality sunflowers, and tie them with a wide blue bow. Currently, my problem is what to give to Sam. Maybe I could weld a pancake griddle onto the top of an ore furnace and turn it into a pizza oven? I'm stuck. His skateboard has seen more than one mishap, but I have no wheels. The Wizard seems to know a little bit of something about everybody, so (reluctantly) maybe I'll ask him for an idea. Delivering all these items will be a bit tricky, but since everyone will be at the feast, I can drop off the gifts without being discovered, and be just a little late arriving for the Secret Santa game.
Of course, the next day the mushroom cave produced two purple mushrooms, in a not-so-subtle way of having my intuition yelling at me to stop procrastinating and go see the Wizard. To prepare for the trip, I retrieved the dozen cheeses for the mouse from the basement, and went to the stove. There, I heated up twelve large gold coins, and set each coin on top of a cheese, and watched as they partially melted into the cheese. Most mice like cheese, but this one always asks if I have brought coins, and so now I have both possibilities covered. I popped the cheeses in a box, wrapped it nicely, and added a big note saying, "Do not open until Christmas."
Taking the cheeses and a mushroom, "I'm off to see the Wizard, the wonderful wizard of . . . Oops, wrong wizard." Excitedly, I tell him about the gifts, thinking that he would like what he heard, but no, he seemed lost in thought and if anything, a little sad. "The Night of the Winter Star once was, but no longer is, my favorite time of the year, "he tried to explain. After telling me that the mushroom was, "Imbued with arcane energies," he said, "The gifts you describe are from you, I cannot help you further." But then, in an abrupt turn-around, he hinted, "Of all the gifts you have described, Haley's is a little weak." (Thanks, Wiz, for multiplying my one problem into two). He then added, "Come with me." We went outside and around to the back of his tower (a place that I had never been to before) and there propped up against the side of the tower was a sleigh. It looked like a miniature version of Santa's sleigh, with high red-painted sides, runners extending four feet out the back, and in the front, each runner formed a golden spiral bout three feet high. If he had told me that hooked up to reindeer it would fly, I would have totally believed him. "Why don't you use this to help you deliver the gifts?" He suggested. I assured him that I would return the sleigh soon after the Winter Star event. For a test run, I put the package for the mouse in, grabbed the reins, and headed off for the mouse house. The mouse was as happy as always to see me, and would have spent the rest of the day showing me hats, but I begged off and left him wondering what was in his mysterious box. Pulling the sleigh made me really feel like Santa (minus a few reindeer) and I suddenly knew what to do with Haley. I would attach a big note to the vase, saying that every fourteen days, a new bouquet of flowers would arrive. Instantly, it became the gift that keeps on giving. And now, what to do with Sam. You know, I can easily craft jukeboxes. In fact, I already have two, one in the basement, and one out in the workshop. What if I recrafted a pair, took them apart, and built a booming pair of speakers capable of being hooked up to his amplifier? Now that should really ring his bell. Just ahead, I saw the lights from the cabin. Time to hide this sleigh and get to work.
Nearly two weeks have passed since the Feast of the Winter Star, and I've been so busy spring cleaning, land clearing, and planting that I have hardly left the farm except for a few moments to buy seeds. For some unconscious reason, on waking up today, I glance at the calendar on the wall and there, circled in red, I see that it's the due day for replacing Haley's flowers. No problem, around here sunflowers are stockpiled everywhere. I go to great pains to limit the morning chores to those that are not smelly or dirty, and grabbing a bouquet (and a gem for Emily to limit any misunderstandings) head off for Haley's house. I go on in, and there she is, in the kitchen, struggling to open a jar of jam. After a greeting, and telling me that Emily's not home, Haley asks for help. (Here it is, one of those all-or-nothing moments. Why do I suddenly feel so insecure with myself around Haley?) I take the jar and give it a good twist. Nothing.
I take a tighter grip, twist again, and off it comes, with a pop. Haley rather delightedly says, "You're stronger than you look." (Well for sure, I will never be mistaken for Alex). Still looking at me, out of the blue, Haley asks, "So, farmer Lee, what kind of girl do you like?" (I look at her, and compulsively think, y-o-u of course. How can I answer her question?) "Well, every guy likes the girl who can't say no! Are there any of those in the valley?" Haley gives a little laugh, and says, "Try me." "Do you like fruit salad?" "Yes." "Do you like parsnips?" "Uh, Uh, Uh, Yes." Here, I have to tell her that I can't stand parsnips. "Do you sometimes blame your sister when you fart?" "Yes!" (Slowly, I'm waking up to seeing a new side of Haley that I entirely overlooked before - a fun-loving side who really enjoys little games.) "Is there a particular young man here in the valley that you are interested in?" "Yes." (So far, I'm liking the direction that this game is taking, but Alex could easily fit into that last yes. All right. Nervous time. Interesting time. Here I am again, Mr. insecure.) "Haley, would you like to go out on a date with me?" "Yes." (Release the flood of relief.) "The movie theater has just opened up. Would you accept this ticket for Friday night's show?" "Yes." As I move towards the door, "Alright. I'll come by and pick you up at eight." "Okay. Thanks for the flowers." "Bye, see you then."
Friday races around all too soon, and I rumble through a suitcase that has not been opened for a year, searching for something tasteful to wear. Like most girls, Haley has an eye for clothes, and even if her tastes, and my tastes are not on the same page, I want her to at least feel like I made an effort to look sharp. Promptly at eight, I'm there at her house, and she looks wonderful backlit by the light as she stand in the doorway. Many girls pile on the makeup and dress sophisticated (Blah!?). Haley did the opposite, with minimal makeup and a dress that made her look younger (Yes!!). With politeness taking center stage, I escort her to the theater, and on the marquee, I see that the movie is, "Brave Little Sapling." I can only hope that she likes it. Once inside, we promptly run smack into her sister (Isn't she supposed to be working tonight?), who gives me a long look, and the two girls start to chat. While they're occupied, I hop over to the concession stand, and order the most expensive item on the menu, cappuccino mousse cake. Still with time on my hands, I walk over and try the crane game. I'm totally inexperienced at this game, but tonight, after two failures, I hook onto and retrieve a plush bunny. What luck! I recall once overhearing that Haley loved baby bunnies.
Maybe I can invite her over to the farm and see my rabbit. Maybe I . . . am having waaay too many racing thoughts. My dreams and reality have hit a fork in the road, and I'm on the wrong path, waaay ahead of myself. Here I am, with someone who has lived a life just as long as I have, all of which I know nothing about, an alien creature so completely different from me in just about every way, a complete total stranger who logically is one of a number of pretty girls in the valley, and yet . . . she stands out from all others in the same way that the rising sun hides all the stars. Maybe Bambi the deer is watching me like he did Thumper rabbit and Flower the skunk as I too, feel twitterpated. In the theater, the little sprout grows a green top, and it is clear that Haley is enjoying both the movie and her treat. For me, there is no touching, no hand holding, although I was acutely aware of a brief moment when she brushed my arm with her hand. The plush bunny seems to have found a secure new home in her purse.
Later, as we walk along the river's edge, and past the empty ice cream stand, I can tell that she's still feeling pretty good, because she's smiling, laughing, and quite talkative. It feels like I'm memorizing every word, every expression. It's music. Although the night is late, I'm so alive, with time racing by so fast. We stop on the bridge, and on a crazy impulse, I ask her if she ever played "Winnie the Pooh sticks?" Haley's eyes open wide, and she breathes out a "Yesss, as a little girl. My sister and I would do it." Quickly, I find two sticks, and hand her the larger of the two. Together we drop them in the water and race to the other side of the bridge and peer down into the dark water. Haley gives out a little chirp of delight as the moonlight flashes off of her larger stick winning the race.
On the steps to her house, Haley turns, faces me, and says, "Thank you. I had a fun time tonight." I reach, and for about five seconds, take and hold both her hands. Compared to mine, they are surprisingly cool to the touch. "Me too. Monday, when you are out taking pictures in Cindersap forest by Leah's house, I'll come by in the afternoon and look for you there." As I walk past Sam's house, I look back, and see that Haley is still in her doorway, framed by the light. I wave, turn, and disappear into the night.
Alex was just finishing a set of curls with his 20-pound weights when he heard the phone ring out in the kitchen. His grandmother picked it up, and a few moments later she was calling, "Alex, it's for you." Still dripping with sweat, Alex dropped the weights, and headed for the kitchen. "Hello? Oh Hi. Thanks for calling. Yes, I remember writing you a couple of months ago. They are? Next Saturday? At eight? This is wonderful. Thank you so much for looking out for me. Bye." "Who was that?" asked his grandmother. "That was my former high school coach. I wrote to him a while back asking if he cold keep an eye out for me on any grid-ball tryouts happening this spring. The Thunder Cats have just opened up their spring training camp for veterans and rookies, and this coming Saturday they will offer an open tryout camp right here in Zuzu City." "What time does it start?" asked the grandmother. "Coach said that the camp will run from eight in the morning until six at night." "Do you want to go to the city a day early and have a good night's sleep in a hotel room?" she inquired. "Nah, I can catch the early bus and get there in plenty of time. I probably won't sleep well the night before anyway. Thanks for the idea, though."
Saturday morning found Alex at the Thunder Cats stadium, along with about 150 other eager athletes. Quickly and efficiently, they were broken up into groups. Alex and his cohort moved from being weighted and measured, to seeing how high they could jump, to the 40-yeard dash, to weight lifting. Although young, big, and strong, Alex had been a high school quarterback and as a result, he did not stand out in any particular category. During the break for lunch, he took a tray loaded with food and found a seat next to a much smaller athlete he vaguely recognized. "Hi, I'm Dewan Smith. I remember you. You were the quarterback that kept beating us in high school," the young man explained. "That's right. And now I remember you. You were that wide receiver that we couldn't cover and kept getting open for big plays," recalled Alex. "Do you really think they will take someone from this tryout?" asked Dewan. "I don't know. It's so hard to be noticed. I can only hope that they test us for skills in the afternoon," commented Alex, in a hopeful tone. Alex's wish was granted, for in the afternoon, the groups were reset, and Alex found himself one of four quarterbacks, throwing to a bevy of pass catching receivers. The best part was that Alex found himself often throwing to Dewan, who made both of them look good by catching everything Alex sent into the air. There were no pauses, no time for Alex to view the competition. He took the hiked ball, did three step drop backs, five step drop backs, seven step drop backs, each time throwing to different receivers. Then he was asked to roll to his right and throw back to his left. The pace was fast, relentless, and Alex could tell that he had not played in a while. The same could be said for Dewan, who came back to the huddle rather winded after a long run down the sidelines. For both however, the excitement of being there, of competing, of playing the sport that they both loved, pushed all thoughts of heavy breathing, perspiring, and soreness aside. All too soon, the day ended. Alex stood with all the participants, and listened as they were told that at most, maybe only one or two would be chosen, and that they would know their status within the next week.
It hurt when next week the phone rang, and it was from one of the coaches who had worked with Alex in the tryout, and who patiently explained that although Alex had looked good, there currently was no room on the Cat roster for a quarterback. Alex had been realistic about his chances. The Thunder Cats already had a star quarterback, a good backup, and two other rookie quarterbacks in their camp. It hurt again, when the phone rang and the call was from Dewan, who excitedly revealed to Alex that the Cats had invited him back for a second tryout. Alex sincerely wished his new found friend the best, and asked to be kept in touch. It hurt a third time, when Alex found out that on the day before his tryout, Haley had been seen at the theater on a date with the farmer. Alex didn't dislike the farmer. In fact, he felt just the opposite, he liked the farmer. The problem was with Haley. All his life, Alex had walked the path entitled, "This is the way things are supposed to be." For example, the star high school quarterback always gets the cheerleader, or the prettiest girl. And Haley certainly qualified as the prettiest girl. Haley simply didn't want to walk that path. She had her own ideas, often would poke holes in Alex's vision, and while she enjoyed his company, kept a strong hold over her independence. Alex loved hearing her laugh and he hated hearing her laugh, for it meant that his star power held no hold over the pretty blonde.
All these thoughts about the unfairness of life occupied Alex as he stood in the stillness alongside Dusty's pen. Alex heard a door open, and a few moments later Penny rounded the corner of the trailer. She walked towards Alex, likely heading to Pierre's for groceries. As she moved closer, the intuitive thought dawned on Alex that of all the people in the valley, Penny was the one who understood pain and disappointment the most. When she was a few steps away, Alex asked her if she had a moment, and together they leaned against the dog's fence and began to talk.
Weasel made a kill. The little froglet never had a chance. She gave out a little squeak as the air left her lungs under the smashing pressure of a giant paw. Weasel hoped that the froglet would have moved a bit more, making the kill a bit more fun. But all she did was to make a few pathetic arm movements, seemingly an attempt to crawl towards the pond, before being crushed. There was nothing that Hoppy and Rana could do., and Rana looked away in horror. Weasel scooped up the dead frog with its jaws and trotted off with the prize, heading for the human's cabin. Rana had done her best to warn the young frogs about the dangers that lie away from the pond. She had assembled all twelve (now eleven) of the young froglets together and spoke about what could happen. The girl frogs in the front had paid rapt attention, while some of the boy frogs in the back were either looking at the clouds or stepping on what remained of each other's tails. Surprisingly, it was one of the shy female frogs who had been caught. The farmer had planted rows of cauliflower, potatoes, and garlic that ended near the pond. The garlic in particular had attracted flies. The little girl was among the last to venture out, mesmerized by the sight and sounds of buzzing flies, and had frozen in fright when the cat made its move. Now, all that remained was an evaporating wet patch in the soil where once there had been a living froglet.
Later, Hoppy talked with Rana about how it felt. "At first, being alive feels like hopping about on solid ground," he observed. "With every step, you're confident that you will land safely, and feel invulnerable. But when you see a frog die, you suddenly come to the realization that you are actually hopping about on an invisible surface. A surface with holes and cliffs, and without warning, you can take the wrong hop." I see you," she said, "When I see you next to me, I know that the ground is safe, and I have nothing to fear." He gave her his best frog smile, "You have never lacked for confidence."
The sun was setting, and as dusk crept over the farm, Hoppy assembled the boy froglets for singing lessons. "Okay, let's begin with . . . Doe, a deer, a female deer, ray a drop of golden sun . . . Me, a name I call myself . . . fa . . ." Hoppy paused in the lesson to look closer at a light to the Southwest. It was the wrong color and too early to be the moon. The moon was yellow-orange-white, and this light had a bluish tint. It was also moving, and drifting closer. Everyone stood breathlessly still, as the glow actually floated right over the pond. It was magical, and even the hard to impress boy froglets in synchrony let out a whispered, "Whoooaaa." At first it looked like an insect, but now it was clear that the light came from a tiny human female figure holding a stick with a star at one end. The figure had little pink wings, but did not seem to use them to keep floating along in the air. After passing over the pond, it moved towards the farmer's field, stopping over the cauliflower rows. The winged figure shook her stick, and tiny firefly-like lights sprinkled down over the crops. There was a stretching and creaking sound, and suddenly there were fully grown cauliflowers everywhere, including a super-giant one in the middle. Her work seemingly done, the glowing creature floated off the the Northwest and disappeared into the night. "That's something you don't see very often," commented Hoppy. "Okay, boys. Singing lessons cancelled for the night." "Yeaaaah!"
I don't know whether it was Haley's or my idea, but it was a good one, when we started walking in the evenings on a pretty regular basis. For me, it was an enforced change of pace from the daily race of caring (animals and plants) and acquisition (running around doing stuff). Each evening, I had to stop, shower, change clothes, and dash off to Haley's house. We would walk to Cindersap forest, circle the small lake as the sun was going down, then head back. The stillness at that time of day was almost magical, and it was just two people walking alone. Another benefit for me was that I started to emotionally calm down. As we walked and talked, Haley became more of a friendly human and less and less of some kind of Greek goddess. I was no longer walking barefoot on egg shells around her and could feel and talk like my normal self.
I wanted to know about her earliest memories. "I must have been about three and a half," she said. "There is a patch of green on the other side of the river in front of our house, and it was covered with Queen Anne's lace. I remember standing in the middle of it all, with huge white umbrella-like flowers everywhere." "What was it like to grow up in Stardew Valley?" I asked. "I followed by sister everywhere," she continued. "It was a wonderful place to grow up in as a kid. There was so much freedom. We left the house after breakfast, returned for lunch, and then were gone again until supper time. Of course, most of the time our parents could see us just by looking out the window. You wouldn't have recognized me. I was so brown from the sun and my hair was bleached almost pure white. I had a pail and a plastic shovel, and together Emmy and I would build sand castles along the water's edge. We'd try to save them by building walls to keep out the ocean waves, but the incoming tide would always smooth out the sand so that we could try again the next day. I had a seashell collection, and Emmy and I would try and pick up sand crabs without getting our fingers pinched." "Were there other children?" I asked. "Oh yes. Most of the young people in the valley you see today were also there. We would run about in a roving pack, children of mixed ages, all barefoot, playing games and exploring. When you are little, Stardew village is big, and there's so much to do. Granny, whose hair was brown then, kept her door open, and we could always get a cookie (frowned upon by our parents), and on hot days she served ice tea in big plastic tea cups, that we gulped down. We'd go trick-or-treating as a pack, and sing carols in the winter. When it rained, or was too cold to go outside, Emmy and I would create hand-made puppets and put on a show. I would make their bodies, and Emmy would design the dresses. We had a grey and white house cat named Charlie. He didn't mind too much when we played dress up and made him into a star. We also served elaborate tea parties, with stuffed animals as extra people, and sometimes even our parents would join in. At night, Emmy and I would play table games over and over, like horse-opoly, which is just like monopoly except you play with pretty ponies instead of properties. We would use stuffed animals as extra players. I still have the lobster, sea turtle, and blue whale. I always hated it when the blue whale won."
As I watched Haley, I could suddenly see more of her as a person, someone who naturally retained a hop and skip in her steps and who laughed a lot (like children do, and adults don't). With her child-like curiosity (or maybe her artist's eye) she would see and point out things that I would never have been aware of. In a world where so many people spend a portion of their lives overcoming early childhood trauma, Stardew Valley was apparently a safe refuge. I knew that the valley was different, magic happened, and that the pace (for all but the farmer) was slower. But never before had I been so close to one who grew up there, to realize and feel their glow of internal health. It had been different for me, but now after bringing myself back to life on the farm, I could really appreciate that I was walking next to one who was sunshine, rain, and full of life.
As we stopped by her doorway, I mentioned, "Haley, I've recently had quite a crop of cauliflowers. Do you eat them?' "Why yes," she replied. "Emmy has a recipe where you crunch them up and mix them with cheese. It's quite yummy." "Finally. Someone who likes cauliflower. I'll bring you a couple of heads and a wheel of cheese tomorrow. See you then."
My goal for today was to fish out four small-mouth bass for Willy's request list. Unexpectedly, I was free from walking with Haley this evening, as she was busy on a project. I did not expect a lot of difficulty catching four fish, and after finishing up the usual farm day, emptied out my backpack in preparation for the trip. As I was about to leave, an iridium bar and a fused silica bar both popped up. So, I grabbed them and took off. Heading along the path towards the lake, I saw a couple of flowers, but I left them to be gathered on the way back. At the lake, I met briefly with Linus (by the water's edge) and Demetrius (by the little bridge) and gave each a fresh strawberry. Fishing is fun. I chose a spot where the lake empties into the river that takes the water to the ocean. It's quiet and relaxing to sit along the water's edge, watching the wind blow ripples in the water. Occasionally, there is a tiny splash, as either a fish tries to grab a low-flying insect or a frog falls in. As time passed, and the shadows grew larger, I seemed to be catching everything but small-mouth bass. Probably, I was too close to the lake, as they like the river better. Now, as dusk settles in, a few mosquitoes see my bare arms as tempting dinner. I watch them intently and wait for them to land before trying to swat them.. These guys are smart, and seem to know when they're in trouble, buzzing off just in front of my intended fatal impact. I still get two of them (one with blood). In the distance, I hear a door open, and shortly the strong odor of cigarette smoke wafts in my direction. It's Sebastian. Smoking, especially by the young, is so rare these days, and I wonder briefly how and why Sebastian picked up the habit. It's now dark, and although I've fished out quite a haul, there are only two small-mouth bass, and it is time to call it quits for the night.
Walking past Robin's house, I see Maru at her telescope. I must have passed that telescope hundreds of times, but never saw it in use. Walking over, I ask, "Hi Maru. What are you looking at?" "M4," she replies. "What is M4? Is it some kind of interstellar bingo game with B7 and O58?" "No, No." She looked up with a smile. "It's Messier 4, a globular cluster in Scorpio." Now, I like looking at the stars, and in a pinch could probably pick out the Big Dipper if I tried. I also knew of Scorpio from astrology. Still, what Maru was talking about didn't mean a lot to me. "Here, take a look," she offered. I stepped up to the telescope and tried to peer into the eyepiece. It was more difficult than it looked. My hand wanted to reach out and touch the eyepiece, which I resisted, and for a few seconds all I saw was blackness. Then I made something out - a large glowing snowball of lights. It seemed to be made up of countless stars in three layers. Big bright ones that were sharp and star-like. Layer two were stars that came in and out of focus, shifting and boiling, making the glow seem alive. Layer three were stars too faint to be seen, but never-the-less contributed to an overall impressive glow. "What is it?" I asked. "A globular cluster," she patiently explained. "Early in the universe, there were multiple collisions between galaxies filled with the gas that forms stars. Some of these massive gas clouds were ejected into the outer regions of the galaxy, where they formed the source of star clusters that still exist today, safe from the tidal disruption of being in the main disk of the galaxy. What you are seeing is more than 100,000 stars." Let there be no doubt, Maru knew her stars. "Where is it in the sky?" Maru pointed and described the stars that made up the grouping called Scorpio, and to be honest, it really did look like a scorpion. There were two claws, and a long curving body that ended up in a very obvious stinger. "M4, is just a little to the right and above the bright red star that marks the heart of the scorpion. But you can't see it without the telescope," she added.
When I first came into the valley, I knew nothing about farming, but in the intervening time, I have learned that it is mostly physical - hard work and steady patient care. What Maru was showing, was a world that was mostly mental - images and ideas that one couldn't touch. I wanted to thank her for the insight. Wishing to do more for Maru than just to give her a strawberry, I tried to recall the contents of a note that I had recovered deep in the mines about things needed by Maru for her greatest invention yet. An iridium bar . . . a battery pack . . and then I remembered that last second iridium bar in my backpack. "Maru, I want you to have this," and I offered her the iridium bar. Maru's eyes suddenly got big. "This is wonderful. Now I can begin working on my Ro . . . secret project," she said excitedly. Before I had handed over the bar, I had the distinct impression that Maru had wanted me to stay longer. But she completely forgot that idea in her excitement. I made a mental note to stop by in the future and bring her a battery pack. I wonder what she is up to?
"Hey Hoppy, Look. A nice person named Cryogen Crystals put a like by one of our stories. What's that you say? It's the first comment in over a month and a half? Come on. How bad can stories written by a frog, a woodpecker, and a sunflower farmer really be? And anyway, I happen to know that the moderators read the stories. Come again? The moderators have to read the stories? Oh."
Rana missed her parents. She said so several times to Hoppy, who was not enamored with the idea of going on a long and potentially dangerous trip, and tried to put her off. Still, there are times when one has to do things, even if you do not want to do them, and Hoppy was not about to let Rana have any reason to feel discontent. One day, early in summer, Hoppy felt the rain coming and he let Rana know to start packing. With a croak of delight, she began filling a knapsack with a lunch of protein-rich larvae wrapped in dragonfly wings. When the rain started to come down about four in the morning, they set off heading South, with Hoppy carrying lunch. Even though it was dark, it was pretty easy going. Keep the trees on the right, the grass on the left. The only challenge was to find the fairly narrow exit from the farmer's land. By the time they had gotten to that point, it was daylight, and now the trees gave way to another pond on their right, one which served to guide them to the exit. This was the pond that Rana had initially been heading towards long ago, before she had heard Hoppy singing off in the distance. That singing, and little sprinkles of chance, had made her continue on to Hoppy's pond. Now at the exit point, a muddy path led them for a short distance along the way. Leaving the path, they cut across the grass, heading for the water that they could now see in the distance.
Rana was leading and had already arrived at the pond, which was a good thing, because out of nowhere the human appeared, chopping away at fiber plants. Hoppy was sure that most humans have something better to do than to cut fiber out in the rain, but he was not going to argue with a guy with a scythe. Too late to avoid the fast-moving human, Hoppy hunkered down under the fiber to hide. Whiz. Whizz. Whizzzz. As the sharp metal edge of the scythe whizzed close to his head, he flattened himself against the ground. As soon as his cover was blown, Hoppy made a mad dash for the pond.
Was it a pond or was it a lake? Most certainly a lake compared to Hoppy's quiet little pool.. There was even a rather long wooden dock, and Hoppy kicked for one end, where he could see Rana gathered with her family. Off the end of the pier was a crab pot, and as he swam by, he checked the trap, just in case a poor frog hand been caught. There was noting in it but an old broken pair of glasses. The human didn't know it, but there is a very good reason why his crab pots never catch any frogs. Rana made the introductions. As Rana hugged her mother, and Hoppy rather formally shook hands with his father-in-law, he looked on the kindly faces of his in-laws. They were so happy for the visit, but Hoppy couldn't avoid seeing the lines and signs of age. Compared to these two, both he and Rana were green sprouts off the branch of an old oak tree. Suddenly, he became aware of how young he felt, so full of life, and how thankful he was that Rana had talked him into making the trip.
The little congregation of frogs grew quiet, hearing the clump, clump, clump of the human walking out on the planks of the pier. A hand reached down and took the glasses out of the trap and to the surprise of all, the human sat down and started fishing. The only part of the human that was visible were a pair of boots hanging over the edge of the planks, ending up close to the top of the water. Bit by bit, rivulets of rain washed mud off the boots. The human's first cast connected with a soggy piece of newspaper. His second caught some kind of blue colored metal can. The human got up and clumped back down the length of the pier and even frogs could translate his low-pitched mutterings as someone who was not having the best of days.
A brief pause in the rain let the sun shine fitfully through the clouds and suddenly a brilliant rainbow appeared, bright enough to be reflected off the now still water of the pond. Hoppy tried to beg off, but at the insistence of Rana, he sang, "Somewhere, Over the Rainbow" for his delighted and astonished relatives (and anyone else within earshot). "Compared to that, our singing sounds as flat as tunes played on wood," commented Rana's father. He then amiably asked Hoppy for his opinion on the human. Hoppy held his hands out like they were a balance scale, and moved them up and down, eventually settling on, "Overall, not too bad. Yes, his appearance in the valley has created ups and downs, but many of the downs somehow turn out to be not too bad. For example, he just cleaned some trash out of your pond." Feeling a forecast that the rain would continue into tomorrow, Hoppy told Rana that after a good night's rest and sleep, they would then have to return. But both promised to return again for another visit before winter.
Here I am, out in the rain, collecting fiber to convert into grass. My chickens, rabbit and duck are like power lawn mowers when it comes to eating grass. I have a silo bulging with hay, but no one wants to touch the stuff. All they want is grass, grass, grass. Recently, I expanded their pen fencing to include a portion of the watering pond, and to allow for planting an even larger amount of grass. But only the rabbit will go near enough to the pond to take an occasional drink. In fact, the only place where the grass grows untouched is a patch close to the pond. Again, only the rabbit can be found there, luxuriating in the fresh grass that on-one else will touch. I once watched a chicken walk six feet out of her way, just to avoid going to close to the pond. Somehow, it seems as if I am the only person in the world with a duck that's afraid of water, or at least afraid of my watering pond.
My search for fiber drew me near to Leah's house, and suddenly, I could hear loud arguing, mostly from a man's voice. Very unusual for Stardew valley. Knowing that she was a young lady living alone out on the edge of the forest, I took the bold step of intruding on someone else's business and knocked on her door. The door was opened by a stranger, who growled, "Yeah. What do you want?" Standing in the rain, I looked past him to a rather pale-looking Leah, and said with my best white-lying face, "Oh. Hi Leah. I brought you the truffles that you asked for." She came to the door, kind of pushing the man out of the way, and said, "Thanks for remembering. I'm planning on baking a pie this afternoon." Avoiding the angry glance of the stranger, I said, "I'm off to Pierre's to pick up a few things, do you need any groceries?" Leah said, "Come inside for a moment," and went to get a pencil and paper. She quickly returned, handed me the list and I glanced at it. It read, eggs, sugar, and in big letters, P.S. THANK YOU. I knew that the thank you was not for picking up eggs and sugar. "Kel was just leaving for the train station. Since it's mostly on your way, could you help him get there?" "Sure," I replied, "It's perfect, because I'm also going to see Robin." Now, I am sure that if 'Kel' could find Leah's cabin out in the edge of nowhere, he could find his way back to the train station, but I would make sure that he found it.
Later, after disposing of Kel, and picking up the groceries, I returned to Leah's house. "I'm so sorry that you had to be involved with Kel and myself. He is an old boyfriend who still has a thing for me, but not me for him. He wants me to go back to the city, to have things as they once were, but it's not going to happen. For once, I'm living out my dream here. I'm done with him, and I just wish that he would get the message." Suddenly, Leah burst into tears. "I was starting to sell some of my artwork on-line. It was a chance for me to make a little money. I thought that people liked my stuff; I thought that in some tiny way people could share my vision." The words burst out between sobs. "But no! Kel told me today that he was the one who was buying up all my sculptures. It's so unfair." Being a guy, I had to try and fight off the urge to be 'Mr. Fixit', and I was wise enough to know that some tears just needed be be vented out. Gradually, she calmed down, and I told her that there was still talk in town about her art show. Seeing all her art together in one place had convinced everyone that she was an amazing artist, and a local treasure. I smiled, and told her, "Everyone is waiting for you to become famous, so that they could sell their originals for millions of pieces of gold." "I think that only happens to dead artists," Leah said, but she smiled when she said it. "What are you working on now?" I asked. And soon, Leah was so busy demonstrating and explaining, that time raced by, and I noticed that it was getting dark outside. I raised my hand like a school child to interrupt her, and point out that I would have to go. By now, the old Leah was back, and she said, "Look at the time. Wow. Am I really hungry. Thank you so much for today. I'll be at the saloon if you want to stop by and talk some more." "I'll have to do a rain check. My chickens are hungry too and if I was outside, I would be able to hear them calling out for more grass. But thanks for letting me stay dry all afternoon." As I walked away, I looked back and suddenly noticed what looked like a little skeleton hanging in Leah's window. "Maybe that's to keep old memories away."