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Right Where We Belong

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Pelican Town, Stardew Valley!”

 

Jolted awake by the raspy screech of the bus driver, you raise your head and look around. You’re the only one on the bus, but you don’t remember the stretch between Zuzu City and… here, Stardew Valley. Blushing, you rise to your feet and stumble down the narrow path between bus seats, legs wobbly from hours of prone napping. The driver has already climbed down and out of the bus, hauling what little you have to the dusty dirt of the station. You thank the driver meekly, pressing a folded bill into his palm before stepping off the bus and into the warmth that came with spring in a valley.

 

Even the weather was different here, and it was barely a 16-hour ride south from Zuzu City.

 

“Hello!” Came a cheery voice only seconds later. You turn your head and find yourself meeting the cool blue eyes of a redhead, who looked like someone you had seen before. “You must be-” she paused, a natural beat in her conversation. “Charlie!”

 

You nod, a soft smile tugging at the corner of your mouth. You could vaguely recall meeting Robin when you were younger, visiting your grandfather one summer. “Hello.” The greeting feels forced, robotic. The redhead doesn’t take notice, or care.

 

“I’m Robin, the local carpenter.” She approaches you, hand extended out. You slide your palm into her’s and share a handshake. Of course, she doesn’t remember you. At most shes three, four years older than you- it wasn’t like you two would hang out when you came down to visit your grandfather all those years ago. Immediately she beams and bends down to gather one of the two suitcases you’ve packed. You don't have time to stop her.

 

“Mayor Lewis sent me here to fetch you, and show you the way to your new home.” Robin continues, picking it up easily as she turns and starts to walk away. You look over your shoulder, the bus was now gone.

 

Another bus sits up the road, windows dirty and the door slightly ajar. You frown, watching it as if waiting for it to lurch to live. How long has it sat there abandoned?

 

“He’s there right now, tidying things up for you!” Robin calls over her shoulder.

 

You turn and follow her, noticing immediately that there were no sky-touching buildings. No skyscrapers, no bustling, honking, swerving cars on the road. Where had they stopped? Hour five, hour six? You took a deep breath, in through your nose and out through your mouth. It was quiet, like the way the city held its breath before a cluster of traffic. Birds chirped peacefully in the tall pine and maple trees that sheltered some parts of the dirt path from the dilapidated bus station.

 

Taking stock, you noticed that the station sat on a long stretch of road, with no other buildings around it. You were heading west, and the foliage only grew in more and more as you and Robin walked. Robin was humming, and you couldn’t help but notice how the sun warmed the strands of her hair, from copper in the shade to a brilliant sunset red.

 

You noticed that about people, about the way their shoulders sloped when they were sad or the way their jaw tightened when they were angry. Natural warning signs you had become an expert in noticing. She turned, looking back at you with that same gentle smile on her face. You had been caught.

 

“The farm’s right over here, if you’ll keep following me.” If she was annoyed that you had been studying her, she didn’t show.

 

You blush at her words. Where else could you go? Your grandfather had left it to you, after all.

 

There had to be at least a mile and a half between the station and your land. Possibly more, but you weren’t so great at tracking distances. Ducking under heavy pine branches you clear what you’d assume would be an entry point onto your property. You can’t help it when your mouth falls open. The land is littered in rocks, boulders, and a jungle of trees stretched well above the peaked roof of what you assumed was your grandfather’s cabin.

 

The cabin reminds you of the bus station, old and rotting and held together by rusty nails and dangerous DIY weekend projects taken on by an old man with nothing but time on his hands. You’re staring, ogling the mass of wood planks, stone steps and mismatched cords, nails and screws you saw hiding beneath the moss, rust and-

 

“What's the matter?” Came Robin’s half-teasing tone, pulling you from your thoughts. It looks like someone had taken the time to clear a wide path from the entry to the cabin, but it seemed like the rest of the land was covered, buried under years and years of neglect. Was that the pile of chopped wood growing mushrooms? She dropped your suitcase at the bottom of the stairs and came back for the second one.

 

“Sure, it's a bit overgrown,” - you wince at the word - “but there’s some good soil underneath that mess!”

 

A mess. That was the understatement of the year.

 

“With a little dedication, you’ll have it cleaned up in no time!” Robin sounded so sure of you and your incredible lack of skill in this area. You shook your head slightly, still getting adjusted to the sight of … well, everything around you. There wasn’t much space for anything. How on Earth were you going to get a little field going? Could the soil even retain enough water or fertilizer to produce a proper harvest by the seasons end? You rubbed the back of your neck, before taking the few strides to meet up with Robin at the bottom of your cabin’s rickety, five-step porch. Robin motioned to it, smiling at you again.

 

“And here we are!” Her arms went up as if she was presenting something majestic and awe-inspiring to you. “Your new home!”

 

You open your mouth to speak, to say something, anything that wouldn’t be somehow considered rude or disheartening when the door to the cabin squeals open. An older man with a cap on ambles out, grumbling about the rusted out hinges when he turns and spots you. His face changes, as if he’s seeing something for the first time. Well, he is.

 

Technically.

 

“Ah, the new farmer! Charlie, it’s good to see you again!” The old man says as he half-shuffles his way across the groaning deck. You take the steps up and meet him halfway, giving a weak smile. You were beginning to feel overwhelmed with it all. The farm, Robin’s near-overbearing ways, Lewis’ smile that reminded you so helplessly of your grandfather.

 

“Welcome!” He continues and offers you his hand. You take it, shake it, and he steps back, thumbs comfortably going under his suspender straps. “I’m Lewis, Mayor of Pelican Town, but you ought to remember that much.” He winks at you, and the name spins a memory firmly lodged in your brain. Your grandfather dragging you to the fair one early autumn day, with Lewis dressing up as the clown. He honks his nose at you and you give a shrill laugh. That was the day your grandfather had really shown his talents off at the display. He had won that year, praising your seven-foot tall sunflower as his winning piece.

 

“Hi Lewis,” You echo meekly. He grins, and then plows out, turning to look at you once more.

 

“You know, everyone’s been talking about you.” He said, his charismatic smile fading into something more like a pity smile. A sad smile, the truth of the matter was that the community knew your grandfather endlessly better than they would ever know you. You nodded, looking down at your feet. Ironically, you would have very big boots to fill. Literally. Lewis cleared his throat, carrying on. “It’s not every day someone new moves in. It’s quite a big deal around here!”

 

“Yeah,” You say, lifting your head, unsure of what else to do. Robin smiles kindly from the bottom of the stairs. Lewis’ pity smile once more played up, and you felt your chest tighten in response.

 

“So. You’re moving into your grandfather’s old cottage.” Lewis remarks, his once chipper, Mayor-seated tone now sad, more realistic. Your grandfather had been his best friend for years. He had driven all the way to where you held the funeral and had rubbed your shoulder when you cried. Your grandfather had been all you had. When he died, you were alone. You felt your eyes sting at the thought, and cough into the crook of your arm to hide the sudden onslaught of emotions. Lewis takes a step towards you, possibly to comfort you, but he steps back, swaying slightly on his feet. He looked up at the cottage, squinting against the mid-afternoon sun that sits right over it.

 

“It’s a good house. Very rustic.” The tone in his voice makes you look at him. He almost sounds proud. Bittersweet. Maybe he helped build it. Robin chortles from your right, and you cross your arms over your chest as she grins up at you, seemingly untouched by the sharing of emotions between you and Mayor Lewis.

 

“Rustic? Well. that’s one way to put it…” She pauses, drawing it out for added effect. She tilts her chin up, eyes glittering. “Crusty might be a little more apt, though!” You choke out a strange sound, a mix between a snort and a gasp. Lewis harrumphs from beside you, clearly not taking the joke as kindly as you were. He mutters under his breath: “Rude!”

 

You and Robin share a laugh before Lewis touches your upper arm. You jolt, the contact unexpected and uncalled for, but it seems like the Mayor of Pelican Town doesn’t notice. Or maybe he doesn’t care. “Don’t listen to her, Charlie,” Lewis says, his kind tone replaced now with something else. You feel the smile on your lips turn. “She’s just trying to make you dissatisfied that you’ll contact her for one of her house upgrades.” The words are barbed and clearly meant to hurt. Robin’s laugh stops instantly, and she glowers at Lewis. You swallow thickly.

 

This isn’t how you wanted the first evening at your new home to go.

 

Lewis seems to catch the energy shift, and looks back at you, the good ol’ “Mayor of Pelican Town” smile back on his face. It's almost unsettling, really. How quickly he could turn the charm on and off. It set a prickling across the back of your neck. “Anyways!” He says, loudly, as if reminding Robin to be on her best behaviour towards their newest resident. “You must be tired from that long journey.” You are tired. Exhausted, in fact… and not just from the journey. “You should get some rest, Charlie.” He moves to gently rest his hand on your shoulder and you don’t jump out of your skin this time.

 

Lewis smiles kindly at you before he removes his hand and starts the walk down the stairs. “Tomorrow you ought to explore the town a little bit!” He calls over his shoulder, reaching to collect Robin, too. “Introduce yourself, the townspeople would appreciate that.”

 

You nod, but the thought of meeting new people so soon, so quickly, turns your stomach into knots. Robin moves your suitcase within your reach and smiles at you as she begins to walk away with Mayor Lewis, her job for the moment finished. You look to lean on something, anything to ground you from the overwhelming sensations you were beginning to feel when Lewis turns back to look at you.

 

“Oh, I almost forgot!” He starts and moves towards what you thought was a second pile of wood. You approach the end of the deck, taking great consideration not to send your foot through the rotting plank. “If you have anything to sell, you can just stick it in this box!” Lewis says as he clears off some fallen dead branches from what looks like an equally rickety shipping box.

 

“I’ll come by before the end of the day and collect it.” He finishes, now beaming at you. Great. You’d have to make a path for Lewis tonight by the looks of things. You look out towards the expanse of land, the tall crooked tops of the trees easing you into a strange sense of familiarity and comfort.

 

The silence is back, but a soft cough breaks it. “Well… good luck!” Lewis says, and waves before turning on his heel once more and starting down the path. You knew better than to thank him for whatever he did in the cottage; he wouldn’t hear you now anyways. Robin waves as well, casts her gaze along the same path you had taken, before turning back to dart after Lewis. You can hear her scolding him for the callout, and the warm deep belly laugh of the Mayor squeezes around your heart. No wonder your grandfather adored him.

 

Turning back to the propped open door of the cottage, you pick your two bags up with everything in it and head inside.

 

It's pathetic.

 

The floor is thankfully covered by a ratty, thin, off-red carpet. The room itself is a single room, with a bathroom door off to the right. You frown, not remembering the house being this small before. Where’s the second bedroom? Where’s the kitchen? There’s a rickety old television set on an equally rickety looking table, with what looks like a microwave box jammed under it for support. Dropping your bags, you rub the back of your neck once more. The work outside would take up all of your time and energy, so whatever Lewis had done in here would have to be enough for now.

 

Approaching the sofabed that takes up the corner of the room, you unfurl it, half-expecting to find it old and in pieces like everything else. Instead, it’s soft to the touch, and you notice with growing happiness that there’s still plastic from the wrapping stuck under one of the legs, and wrapped around the middle support of the twin sized mattress. Lewis had bought this for you, you’re sure of it. You sit on the bed, eyes welling up with tears. Your grandfather had sold everything, it looked like when he realized his health was failing and wasn’t coming back. Maybe you shouldn’t have judged the cottage so harshly; maybe when your grandfather left, the townsfolk tried to keep it together, dreaming of the day he came back to it.

 

He would never step foot in this cottage again, and now it belonged to you.

 

“I’m doing this for you, Grandpa.” You whisper, stubbornly wiping the stray tears that had fallen. “I’m going to clean this place up, bring it back to what it used to be… for you.” It’s not the truth, it’s only partially because there’s another reason you’ve taken up your grandfather’s legacy.

 

You stand and begin to move your suitcases again, this time tucking them into the corner of the room under the window. As you do, your shirt rides up, exposing your black and blue hip and lower back.