“When you bring a child into this world, you carry a responsibility. You are responsible for their health, their fortune, their happiness.”
That was my favorite quote from my favorite book. Most days, I stay home and read, often not bothering to shower or change out of my pajamas. That is, until today.
Today I was going to look for the wishing well that was rumored to be somewhere in the forest surrounding the Old Town district of Windenburg. As I walked along the cobblestone path, I marveled at how the town had changed since the last time I left my house. There was a new coffee shop, a new library, and so many other new businesses. I didn’t recognize anyone, though at this hour of the morning there weren’t many people around to recognize. Mostly those who liked their early-morning jogs, though there were also a few people who looked like they were running off to work at this ungodly hour. I shook my head, wondering what the world had come to after all these years. I tried to count how many years it had been since I had walked this far from my doorstep, but couldn’t count it on one hand. It had to have been at least twenty. Boy, did twenty years change a lot. Twenty years ago, I had a beautiful girlfriend and a great job. I sighed. Just thinking about her made me remember the reason why I had stayed in my house in the first place. I shook my head, trying to get rid of the memories of her that made me want to go back.
Around midday, I found it. The wishing well was in a small clearing in the forest that looked oddly familiar. Then I remembered: this was where Toni and I had our first date. We had a picnic on the hill that was right behind the well. It was funny that I didn’t remember seeing it, but back in those days I’m sure we missed a lot since we only had eyes for each other.
I stepped closer to the well. Though the amount of ivy growing on it would suggest that it had been around for awhile, it appeared to be in good condition. Not that I’m a plant expert or anything. I was an architect. Twenty years ago, I knew most of the people and buildings in the city because those people had hired me to help refurbish Old Town. Back then, everyone wanted to preserve the city and its connection to nature. They wanted to keep the cobblestone streets, the ivy, and the architecture. I had so much passion back then. I loved that city that wasn’t divided into districts because Old Town was the only district. I loved the amount of nature that wasn’t restrained to flower boxes and the people that could go about their day without an infinite amount of Starbill’s. Or was it Stardollars? Either way, we made sure to keep those big businessmen out of our town. Until our children left to explore the world, and when they came back they said that we needed to have all of these things that the rest of the world supposedly did. By then, they were the ones running the place and we were powerless to do anything about it. That was when they built the Modern district. A place that I still haven’t seen because I refuse to believe that a place exists where the ground is all concrete and the buildings glass. A place so fragile that the ruthless desire of their children will one day tear down what they worked so hard to build.
Anyways, back to the well. I took a coin out of my pocket- the oldest one I had- and closed my eyes. “I wish that I could see my child,” I whispered as I tossed it into the wishing well. I met the eyes of the image on the well and was surprised to see that they were glowing green. I peered into the well and saw a picture in the water. It was a girl who looked to be in her twenties, simply dressed, sitting at a table and reading a book. She had the hair of my father and the grace of my mother. A jade bracelet that I recognized was on her wrist. I had given a bracelet just like that to Toni. Then I realized something: if she had the bracelet… then she was Toni’s daughter. Which meant that she had told no lies. I had to get back to Old Town as quickly as possible.
When I arrived, it was evening and the girl was still sitting there. I casually walked by her table, wondering if I should go and talk to her. Would she recognize me? But she had never known me as her father. Why hadn’t I trusted Toni twenty years ago when she said that she was sure the baby was mine?
Finally I mustered up the courage to talk to her. I walked back over to the table. “Is this seat taken?” I asked. She looked up at me and shook her head no.
I sat down, wondering to do next. I looked at her book, which was faded and worn. “What are you reading?” I asked. She shrugged. I sat there a little longer, wondering what to do next. “What’s your name?” I asked. This time, she replied.
“I-I have to go now,” she said as she got up and walked away.
She probably thought that I was some creepy guy, like all the kids did nowadays. They didn’t have the trust that we had in people when I was young. I had trusted countless strangers, but I hadn’t trusted my own girlfriend. Maybe there was a time where we stopped trusting people. I looked down at the table and realized that she had left her book. I picked it up and looked in the front cover, making sure to mark the place where she had left off at with my finger. There was some scribbly handwriting that I would’ve known anywhere. It was Toni’s. It read:
Happy 21st birthday! I know that this year has been hard for you, but stay strong.
Love, Mom ❤
I smiled at the heart. She had always written that at the end of notes to me for the brief period when she was between jobs and had moved in with me. But I couldn’t dwell on the past now- I needed to find my daughter to return this.
After running around town for most of the evening, asking everyone I saw if they knew where this girl lived, I arrived at her house. It was a small cottage toward the outskirts of town. I had probably passed it earlier, when I was trying to find the wishing well. I knocked three times with no reply, then I tried the doorknob. The front door was unlocked. The last time I could remember people keeping their doors unlocked was when I was a boy. Back then, we weren’t scared of someone sneaking in and killing us in our sleep. I entered the room. There was a bookshelf along one wall, with a couple of armchairs next to it and an end table between them. Along the wall containing the front door was a display of pictures. I gently set the book down on the end table; then I happened to glance over at the pictures. I wanted to know what her life was like, and this was my chance to find out.
The first one that I looked at was her in a wedding dress. Did she have a husband? Was she still happily married? She seemed happy enough when I saw her earlier, but that could be due to the book she was reading or I could’ve just been reading her emotion wrong. I wished that I had been there to walk her down the aisle. I wish that I had been there to see her life, to help her through the hard times and rejoice with her in the good ones. She deserved to have a father there for her, but she didn’t.
I felt a presence behind me and turned around to see a hooded figure with black smoke surrounding him. “I can show you her life,” he said. “I can show you the good and the bad, which is much more than these pictures ever will.”
I nodded, wanting so badly to see what her life had been like. Suddenly, the world was devoured in blackness, except for a single image. It was Toni, holding my daughter for the first time. “Her name is Natalie,” she said to the nurse, who wrote the name down. She pointed to two other babies in turn and said their names. My daughter, Natalie, was a triplet- but when I asked the wishing well to show me my child, it had only shown me Natalie. Did that mean that her two siblings were from another man? Could that even happen? I wished that I had paid better attention in biology.
Then I saw scenes of Natalie as a child, not getting along with her sisters, not getting the attention that she wanted from Toni because she was always with another man. Was he the father of the other two girls? I wished that I had known that Natalie was my own. I could’ve raised her and given her all of the love and attention that she deserved. Then I saw the man drowning, and the hooded figure appearing and talking to her. The one time where she was truly happy. I saw her in high school and college, succeeding on the swim team. I saw the stranger that “helped” her and knew at once that he was the father of her two children. I saw her heart break and tears sting her eyes as she wrote a note, then left the two of them at the door of a woman’s house. I saw her pack up and come here, back to her roots, find a man that was good for her, and marry him.
Then I saw nothing, because that is what happens when twenty years ago you don’t trust the one you love, but trust a stranger now.
Author’s Note: This story was written for the monthly short-story contest on the Sims Forums. This month, participants were given two sets of screenshots and had to choose one to use to illustrate their story. A minimal amount of editing (ex. resizing, making black and white) was allowed on these pictures. Each screenshot had to be used at least once. The submitters of the screenshots were also not allowed to use the screenshots that they submitted.