Chapter four – Meaningful ways to pass the time
My apologies for the length of this chapter. I tried to cut it into two parts, but it didn’t work out >.<
The sun was already starting to set by the time I reached the borders of Bridgeport. I really needed a bike; walking all the way over there and back again every day would take way too long.
I walked by a pair of teenagers, and didn’t pay them much attention until I realised they were talking about me.
‘Did you see? She just came from the cabin in the mountains!’
‘I heard there lives a witch there.’
‘No way, it’s some kind of creepy scientist professor!’
‘I bet she’d change you into a frog if you came too close there,’ the girl cackled. ‘Does that woman wanna get cursed?’
‘Or she’ll get eaten by the cowplant!’ the boy laughed, just loud enough for me to hear. I chose to ignore them and continued walking. Until a moment ago, I myself had been wondering if the Hemmington woman was some kind of crazy scientist. But hearing their gossip, I suddenly had a change of heart. It was time to find out more about her.
And so, life became a routine.
I had to wait until a month had passed to return to the Town hall. During the nights I stayed at the church – Lara seemed happy that I found work, although she refused to take any more than 1/3rd of my pay.
The place was often empty during the day, but every once in a while there would be a special sermon and the entire ground floor would become crowded. There were some people like me who applied for shelter, but they never stayed long.
At four in the morning I’d get up, shower and get dressed and grab myself some breakfast in the church’s kitchen. Then it was time to head over to Ashley’s. Her cabin was really far from the city, but with the bike and cellphone I bought from my first payments the trip there didn’t take as long anymore.
By the time I’d get there, Ashley was just heading out to work. We greeted each other (well, I waved and said good morning, but especially the first few days she would almost run past me and hide in her car as quick as she could). She then left, and I would get started in the garden…
Working well into the day. The sun was already on its way down to the horizon again by the time I finished. On day one I entered the garden with a wooden stick and poked at every plant I saw, to find out wether they could bite ur not. Turns out the green- and purple coloured oranges really were the only strange thing in the garden. After that, I started to like my work.It felt strangely rewarding, taking care of plants and slowly seeing them mature.
At six p.m., Ashley got home and we enjoyed dinner together – part of the work agreement, she said. It turned out that Ashley really wasn’t the crazy scientist woman I imagined her to be.
She was a shy girl, not too keen on strangers and afraid of water. She liked spending her time reading or playing with her pet parrot, Sebastian. There never really were any visitors at her house, other than me and Lara. The reason I would discover a few days later. I quickly grew attached to her and her pet, though, as the days turned into weeks. Ashley had a strange… attraction, that made me care about her. Like she was a little kid that needed to be cared for.
‘Cathy… what are you doing?’
‘Teaching Basti to bark.’
As the weeks went by, I found out that Ashley had a crush on someone. It was a man she met at work, and the girl was completely smitten.
Her whole face would light up if she saw him…
But he never seemed to notice her and she was too scared to start a conversation.
Over the course of weeks, I noticed that Ashley had a serious problem with people. She would get stuck on the simplest sentences, hide from the mailman and rarely go out to town, exept for her trips to the lab. I tried to pull her out of her shell a little, but it wasn’t really working.
See? I told you we had a book about gardening.’
‘Where? I don’t see it.’
‘It’s right next to the cookbook. And I appreciate you doing so much for miss Hemmington, Cathy.’ (we decided to stick with my false name for now.)
‘Lara, if you don’t mind me asking… did you purposely send me to Ashley? She filed for a gardener, after all. I don’t even come close to that.’
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ she said with a smile. ‘But, purely hypothetically speaking… your character would have a positive effect on her personality if you stayed with her for, let’s see… another month or two.’
On a cloudy Thursday, I came in around dinnertime and noticed Ashley’s chopping was completely off. She was sluggish and came dangerously close to chopping her own fingers every five seconds.
‘Are you okay? Want me to do that instead?’ I asked.
‘It’s fine… I’m almost done.’
She mixed the vegetables together and put them on two plates, after she gave one to me. We retreated to the table and started eating. I tried to stir up a conversation, but Ashley was gazing out of the window and barely responded. Eventually, I had enough and cut directly to the chase.
‘Ashley, did something happen at the lab today?’
‘No… why would you think that?’ she answered in a high-pitched voice. ‘I just did what I always do… water the plants, take notes… care for the greenhouse-‘
‘It’s that guy from the lab, isn’t it?’
She jumped. Literally. A piece of vegetable got stuck in her throat and she almost spent a full minute coughing before finally saying anything.
‘I… I talked to him today…’
‘Really? That’s great!’ I said. ‘You’ve been trying to do that for months, haven’t you? So how did it go?’
‘He, umm… umm…’
‘He asked me out.’
She said it so softly that I almost couldn’t hear. I was a bit surprised, but quickly smiled again.
‘Why the hesitation? You are going, aren’t you?’
Ashley remained silent. I put my fork down and tried to look her in the eyes.
All of a sudden, she got up and turned around.
‘I don’t… want to talk about it.’
‘Where are you going? Hey!’
I quickly shoved my chair back and followed Ashley as she practically ran up the staircase. I’d never been upstairs before, but something told me I couldn’t let this slide.
There she was, curled up into a ball in the far corner of her bedroom. Her long, black hair fell across her shoulders. She pulled it back behind her ears and buried her head in her arms, hugging her knees. A soft weeping drifted towards my ears.
‘Ashley, what’s going on? This isn’t like you,’ I muttered while walking towards her. She refused to look at me and hugged her knees even tighter.
‘Are you scared of going out on a date with him?’
That was spot-on. I felt it. Careful not to hit the wall or the bedside, I sat down right in front of her.
‘Talk to me, boss. I can’t help if you don’t tell me what’s going on.’
‘I’m no good with people, Cathy,’ she wept. ‘I don’t understand them. What if I say something stupid and he will hate me for it and won’t ever want to see me again?’
I was mildly surprised. That was the first time she said a whole sentence to me without a single pause in it.
‘He won’t do that,’ I whispered. ‘He asked you out on a date, remember? That means he’s interested in you, and he won’t go away just because you say something funny. I’m sure he’s a better person than that.’
‘But I’m not even pretty. I’m sure he won’t… want somebody that’s not even pretty and just asked me out because he felt sorry for me.’
She retreated into her lap again. I sighed. Over the weeks, I’d noticed that Ashley had a very low self-esteem. That was why she was spending so much time with plants, and her bird. If only there was something to boost her confidence a little…
‘I know!’ I yelled. ‘I’ll help you get ready for tonight. And we’ll rehearse what you want to say to him, if you want. How about that?’
‘I don’t know… maybe I should just cancel the date.’
‘Not a chance,’ I said with a strict tone in my voice. ‘You hired me to help you out, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Now get up.’
I yanked her arm with force and pulled her up.
‘How much longer until Lincoln is here?’
‘Two more hours…’
‘Good. You’ll take a nice long shower first and then we’ll get you ready, okay?’
She didn’t respond, but shuffled into what I thought was the bathroom and soon I heard water falling.
‘Is it alright if I take a look inside your drawers?’ I yelled, trying to top the sound of the shower.
‘Okay,’ she yelled back. Immediately I walked over to her closet and started rummaging through. Gardening clothes… work uniform… more gardening clothes… I had to dig all the way to the back to find what I was looking for. By that time, Ashley was out of the shower.
‘I showered…’ she said softly.
‘Good. Now it’s time to get you ready.’
‘I don’t have a very good feeling about this…’ Ashley muttered.
‘Nonsense! You look great! Now put this on and then wait downstairs.’
I wasn’t used to bossing sims around, but it was much easier than expected. Or maybe Ashley was just really easy to command.
The doorbell rang.
‘Oh tomatoes! That’s him!’ Ashley yelled, jumping into the air out of fright. ‘What do I do, what do I do?!’
‘Do as we practiced!’ I whispered back. ‘And open the door, for plumbob’s sake!’
‘But- but, but, what if he… reconsidered?’ She asked, panicking. ‘What if he thinks I look ridiculous?’
‘Listen, either you open that door right now or I will open it for you and tell him you’re married to a pumpkin!’
‘But what if-‘
When she froze, I pushed her in front of the door, quickly opened it and stepped out of the way. There was a middle-aged man standing on the porch, and judging from the way she clutched her hands when she saw him I assumed it was Lincoln.
‘Hello, Ashley, are you ready to-‘
He suddenly stopped speaking and looked at her with amazement in his eyes.
‘W- would you like to come in?’ Ashley stuttered, remembering our rehearsal. I quickly dashed for the stairs and hid out of sight.
‘I- Yes, thank you.’
He followed her inside. There was an awkward silence for a few moments, but then Lincoln started to speak.
‘Is that really you, Ashley? I- I mean-‘ he said quickly, ‘you…’
‘Do you not… like it?’ Ashley muttered with a hurt face.
‘No, no! That’s not what I mean! I’ve just never seen you without your working clothes on. You look really nice, Ashley.’
‘Shall we go then?’ Lincoln asked. ‘I have a taxi waiting for us outside.’
‘Come on, come on!’ I growled from behind the wall. ‘Get going!’
As if she heard me, she nodded and headed for the door. Lincoln decided he wanted to be a gentleman and held it open for her, with a very content look on his face. A few seconds later the door slammed shut and I couldn’t see them anymore.
I waited a good five minutes before going out of the house. The two were gone, and I saw the lights of a cab disappearing into the distance.
‘Good luck, Ashley,’ I whispered. ‘It’ll be fine, I’m sure.’
I turned around to walk into the house again and wait for her return, but then changed my mind. I hadn’t been into town for days, save for the trips to the supermarket and the church.
It was time for some exploring.