“So, how’s the band doing?”
“Pretty well, actually. We got a gig all the way in Newcrest.”
“Oh, wow! You’re going places, then!”
“Well, it’s just a small club we’ll be playing in.”
“But in a big city.”
“Yeah, it is. I am pretty excited.”
“Then we should raise a glass of… water for the small club in a big city. And for Memory!”
“I guess we should.”
Amelia smiled at the man across the table. Jon Lessen was the lead guitarist of The Memory of Destry, Riverview’s most successful rock ’n’ roll band at the moment – which to be fair wasn’t saying much considering the small town had very few professional bands to begin with. Not that Amelia cared about the fame; she had gone out with Jon because Jon was nice and funny and Amelia had known him for years. And she had been wishing to get back into the dating scene because romance was all kinds of fuzzy and romantic in her opinion.
To be fair, though, all of her recent dates had been few and basically consisted of friendly conversation over dinner that didn’t lead to anything. And it was pretty clear that this one was going to go that way too. Jon had admitted almost right away that he’d been persuaded to the date by his bandmates who thought he needed to take a break from his obsessive practising. It was perhaps a bit disappointing, but at least he was being honest. Besides, Amelia wasn’t one to rush into romance, as much as flowers and walks by the river in the moonlight excited her. Friendly chats over good food were just as nice.
And the food really was good here. The Little Corsican Bistro was a nice restaurant at the centre of Riverview. It was even quite affordable, which Amelia appreciated in her current financial situation.
“So what else have you been doing lately?” Amelia asked after taking another bite of her food.
“Practising, mostly. You know, the usual. And there’s been some noise coming from the old barn but I’m planning to get it looked at. It’s nothing serious, probably.”
“Really?” Amelia asked, intrigued, “Well, let’s hope that sorts itself out.”
“Yeah,” Jon smiled, “So how about you? You were working in… insurance, right?”
“Yep. Recently things have been pretty quiet there, but there’s still plenty of work to do.”
“And you’ve got that tenant now. I heard he was arrested once.”
“Oh, that,” Amelia chuckled only mildly nervously, “That was a silly misunderstanding. He’s very nice, really.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” Jon said and glanced at his watch, “Oh, hey, look. I guess I should go. I want to go over the songs for our gig before going to bed.”
“Oh?” Amelia said, “Well, sure. Don’t let me keep you, then.”
Jon smiled at her again.
“But hey, you’re really nice, and a great friend. We’ll see later, right?”
“Right. Good night. And good luck for Newcrest!”
Amelia drove home with laid-back country tunes playing on the radio and went to bed in a nearly Zen-like state. The evening had been quite nice, with good food and good-natured talking, like she had been hoping for. It had also been a nice break from the routine – not that her life had been very routine-filled lately anyway. It was getting back to it, though, at least for a while.
Too bad that one of those routines was worrying about money.
It wasn’t really noticeable on the outside, mostly thanks to the big house with a renovated surface, but Amelia could still feel the bills and her family’s debts on her shoulders. Her mother sent her money from time to time, but it seemed that she had adopted the life of an artist in France – which in her case just meant occasionally selling paintings and spending the rest of the time misunderstood by the public but also fiercely in love with her muse. It wasn’t exactly the kind of lifestyle that left her with much to spare for her SimNation-bound daughter, or their old house that was really showing wear and tear underneath all the updates.
Amelia had got used to taking care of things like leaks in the pipes and broken appliances by herself. She had become quite handy at it, really, and she had learned to save money in little ways already back when she’d been studying business and computing at the university and living the life of a poor student. She did her best to keep the old house together, but sometimes even her optimism made way for the possibility that the Sprigg house would end up like a lot of other old farmer mansions.
It had started with the greenhouse that Amelia had only occasionally cleaned up. Mum’s plants were withering there all alone, and Amelia honestly didn’t know what to do with them. It wasn’t a very encouraging sight, and knowing it could be just the beginning made it even less so. Riverview in general had been dwindling as the urbanisation had spread even to the old, respected farmer communities and attracted almost all the young people away.
The situation in Riverview wasn’t nearly as bad as in the nearly deserted smaller farmer villages – like Detour and Bluewater Village that were also situated by the Simomon River that split Riverview in three – but it was getting noticeable. Even Amelia could remember the town being much livelier back in her childhood. Some old farmhouses now stood empty, with decaying barns collapsing from the middle. At least the city-dwellers who had lately come to Riverview in search of peace, quiet, nature, and a chance to bury their uncomfortable secrets had made things a bit more hopeful for the town. Amelia liked to think that it was a good sign, even if it didn’t help her specifically. If some rich runaway wanted to buy the Sprigg house, Amelia would be there to decline even if it made things harder for her.
Besides, she could manage. She had been working hard for years to get a raise at her job, and she had a good feeling that it was about time she actually got it. And Tad had been paying his rent on time so far, which had done its part in helping her pay her bills more than admirably in the last month. So in that regard, her Plan had been a success, even if the success had come with some… unexpected extras.
Though now that she thought about it, how did Tad pay her? Where did the Grim Reaper get money from? Amelia hadn’t even considered to question it before, but now the question became so pressing that she needed to ask it during their next teatime. That turned out to be right after an especially draining day of meetings at work and then fixing pipes, so Amelia decided to hold their little break by the fireplace. She brewed the tea and dragged the old trunk that served as a coffee table from the TV corner to the fireplace and then slumped on the couch to bask in the warmth of the freshly lit fire.
Man, she was going to be happy when all the small repairs would be done again for a while…
“You seem… weary,” Tad said, “Was your day rough?”
“A little bit,” Amelia sighed, “I’ve been fixing things around the house. They keep breaking every once in a while.”
“Oh. I see.”
“But I’ve been saving up to get the pipes fixed properly,” Amelia said, “Your rent money has helped me a lot.”
“I am glad to hear that, even though I haven’t had time to pay for more than… two months now.”
“Speaking of rent,” Amelia said, “I just got to thinking… where do you get money from?”
Tad opened his mouth, but then closed it awkwardly. A small alarm bell chimed in Amelia’s brain.
“It is real money, right?” she asked.
“Oh, definitely,” Tad said with a vigorous nod, “Well, as real as it can be nowadays. It is mostly numbers, really.”
“I do know enough about how money works that I do not just make the numbers appear on your account. They are much easier to move around anyway.”
Amelia’s mouth started to feel dry.
“Move around?” she repeated, “As in… oh my goodness!”
She was up from her seat before she knew it.
“Thanatos Dustpine, are you telling me that you have been paying me with stolen money?”
Tad looked startled, probably because Amelia very rarely got angry, and partly because no one had ever used his whole name – any of them – to scold him. He got up and raised his hands in surrender.
“I uh… a little bit?” he said, “But it was either that or making more of it, which would be bad in a different way. The people I take it from are not even going to miss it.”
Amelia clenched her teeth for a moment to calm down her nearly hysterical breathing.
“I paid my previous bills with money stolen from some rich guy?!” she shrieked.
“Uh… several rich people, actually,” Tad said timidly, “That… is not helpful, is it?”
Amelia threw her hands up in the air.
“NO! Tad, what were you thinking! I can’t accept thievery in my household! Or anywhere! Aren’t you trying to solve a theft anyway? That just makes this hypocritical and terrible at once!”
“I am sorry!” Tad said, “I… I was not happy about it, but I did not think it would be such a big issue. Besides, I had no choice!”
“Well, you could have been honest!” Amelia snapped “That’s a choice! Look, I don’t want to be an unpleasant person, but I can’t let you keep doing this!”
The universe cringed a little bit. Someone yelling at Death like this was usually quite unheard of. And Amelia would probably have been more surprised by her own boldness if her moral code hadn’t been overriding everything else at the moment. Fortunately for Amelia, and possibly for a few others, Tad was not easily irritated, and even he realised that he was probably the one at fault here. He cleared his throat nervously.
“I am sorry, Amelia. I wanted to help you… with the money and all. You seemed to need it. And, well, I cannot exactly just… get a job, now can I?”
Amelia tried to calm down, and to settle her mind. And she also pondered Tad’s words while she was at it. Things presented as impossible usually made her just want to think of ways around them that much harder. A tentative smile broke on her face.
“Well, why not?” she said.
“All right,” Amelia said proudly the very next evening, “This is how you apply for a job nowadays.”
Amelia had woken up with so many ideas for her “Get Tad a Job” -plan that she’d been barely able to contain her excitement. Her first step had been to ask her own workplace if they were hiring interns at the moment, but got a curt “No” in response. And in hindsight, it was probably for the best. Tad working at a place where people got money from deaths just felt somehow… wrong. Or perhaps just too unnervingly appropriate. So it was back to square one and to traditional job-hunting. Amelia had sat Tad down in front of her computer, and now watched eagerly as Tad looked at the computer keys like they would bite him and was dubiously reading the CV -creator page Amelia had opened for him.
“You do realise that I need to lie about… everything when I fill this in, do you not?” Tad asked, “Name, age, education… previous occupation… are they going to believe if I put in ‘can speak all languages’?”
“Uhh… maybe you should narrow it down a bit,” Amelia said, “And a few white lies like this are much… less bad than stealing or fake money.”
“It would not be fake; it would just mess with the economy a tiny bit.”
“Yes. That,” Amelia brushed it off with a wave of her hand, “But the point is that this I can deal with.”
Tad’s fingers hovered hesitantly over the keyboard.
“I… I don’t know about this,” he said, “These electronic appliances and I never get along.”
“Oh, come on! My computer may be a bit old, but it works fine. These things were built to last in the old days of four years ago!”
“Well, all right, here goes.”
He pushed a few buttons.
As Amelia spent the rest of the evening fixing the smoking, sparking computer, she had to admit that online job applications probably weren’t Tad’s cup of tea.
How did he even do this?
Luckily she had several other ideas they could still use.
The next one started with just mapping out Tad’s skills and interests. According to his own words, Tad was only really good at his current job, but he did have some more down-to-earth interests that Amelia latched onto. They were mainly living things, books – which he apparently had quite an extensive collection of – and plants – which he had a special love for. So Amelia assured him that it was a good idea to ask around the town for anything that had to do with any of those things.
At first Tad had seemed sceptical, and to be fair, Amelia was a bit doubtful about it too. Mostly because of Tad’s still very lacking communication skills. He did humour Amelia, at least, and went around the town asking if anyone needed assistance they might want to pay some money for. Every time he came back unsuccessful, and with the sort of calm, melancholy acceptance that came from years – or in this case, millennia – of being largely unwanted.
Whenever Amelia had time she went with Tad. When the bookstores and the town library had proven to be dead ends they had moved on to the town gardens and farmers. The family farms especially often hired some part-time help, Amelia knew, so she and Tad toured them the next weekend.
Amelia forced herself to stay back, insisting that it was good for Tad to do his own talking and to learn. All she did was phone the people in advance and give them her recommendations.
Even that usually didn’t work, though. After the twentieth rejection even Amelia had to admit that the whole thing had proven to be much trickier than she had thought.
“Well, I guess I am just not cut out for this sort of thing,” Tad said with resignation after being chased out of the McDermotts’ big farm – apparently good old Luke McDermott had somehow thought that Tad was trying to seduce his wife, though Amelia had no idea how he could have got that idea.
“Oh, don’t give up yet!” Amelia said, even though her smile was a couple of lumens less radiant than usually, “We’ll figure something out … Maybe you could sell wildflowers at the farmers’ market. Or maybe…”
Amelia’s smile was suddenly back in full force.
“Oh, I know! Why didn’t I think of this sooner? Come on!”
She drove them back home and practically dragged her tenant to the backyard, where her mother’s greenhouse stood neglected, forlorn, and wilted. She spun around in front of it, spreading her arms dramatically.
“Ta-da! One greenhouse and surrounding, fertile land, just for you!”
Tad looked at the greenhouse, eyes wide.
“I… this is… are you sure you want to just… let me use it? I mean, I would be honoured, but… just… are you sure?”
“Oh, of course!” Amelia said cheerfully, “It’s not like anyone’s using it now! It used to be mum’s kingdom, but I’m sure she’d love if someone were to keep it up while she’s away. And my thumbs are the opposite of green!”
Tad glanced at her thumbs.
“I… suppose they are a bit reddish. And… I would grow things here, and sell them? But that is going to take a while. Before they grow, I mean. Are you going to be alright until then? Money-wise?”
Amelia waved her hand as if to chase such worries away.
“Hey, you’re not supposed to worry about my money! Of course I’m going to be fine! I’m sure that once this gets going, you’ll be able to pay you rent with hard-earned money in no time!”
A smile cracked into Tad’s face. This time his smile almost showed teeth.
“Thank you, Amelia! No one has ever been this generous to me!”
“Oh, well thank you,” Amelia blushed, “Just make good use of it, okay?”
“I promise I will!”
And he did. For the next few days it seemed that all Tad could think about was the greenhouse. He went out in the town and returned with bags full of different kinds of seeds, and he spent hours cleaning up the greenhouse and trying to revive the remaining, wilted plants. He worked without tiring, and sometimes Amelia could see the lanterns outside the greenhouse lit far into the night. Sometimes she called Tad back in to rest for the night, mostly to get some peace of mind for her more worrying side, but sometimes she just sat up in the library and enjoyed the nostalgic feeling of life in the greenhouse. She had grown up with mum spending almost all of her days in there or the vegetable garden – the latter of which mum herself had got rid of before fleeing to France. Now, it was almost like a part of mum was back in the house, and it warmed Amelia’s heart.
The biggest difference with Tad and Julia Sprigg – well, as gardeners, not as entities – were the methods. Julia had relied on organic fertilisers and classical music as well as hours of hard work. Tad – while hard-working – decided to forgo all fertilisers in favour of talking to the plants and pesticides in favour of asking any possible pests if they would kindly just leave.
It actually seemed to work, though it was pretty hard to tell at this point when most of the plants had just been planted. But at least Tad seemed to be enjoying himself whenever he was outside in his new little kingdom. That alone gave Amelia a good feeling about it all.
The only downside was, of course, that without Tad’s rent money for a couple of months Amelia would be back in the even tighter budget she had had before Tad had moved in. But she knew she would get by. She had her wrench and her screwdrivers and her hopefully upcoming raise. She – and the house – would definitely persevere.
With these thoughts and with the next few busy days it seemed that both Tad and Amelia almost forgot why Tad was in Riverview in the first place. Luckily for them, the universe had a way of reminding people of itself; a couple of weeks later, Tad’s quest literally knocked on Amelia’s door.
It was already dark, and Amelia wasn’t expecting visitors. That was why the knock on the door came as a surprise, and it took Amelia a while to get herself from the lazy home evening mode to the nice hostess mode. She straightened her posture and ran to the door, clicked the lock open, and came face to face with two pairs of glowing eyes.
“Good evening,” said Brigitte Hewitt, “I’m so sorry to interrupt your evening, but is Tad at home?”
“What? You? I mean, um… Yeah, he is,” Amelia said, hiding her surprise very well all things considered, “He actually has his own front door at the side.”
“Oh? Well, but it would be nice to talk to both of you, if that’s fine. Could you call him over?”
“Umm, sure, I can do that,” Amelia couldn’t help a frown forming on her face, “What’s this all about?”
Brigitte smiled her inviting smile.
“Oh, I’m sure you’ll like this! Mimosa figured out who took the spell package you were looking for!”
Amelia glanced at Mimosa, who was lurking behind Brigitte’s back. Mimosa averted her eyes and shrank even further into the jacket she was wearing. Amelia thought about it for one moment and then shrugged, opening the door behind her further.
“Well, come on in, then.”
Author’s Note: I swear Amelia’s wardrobe gets more and more saccharine with every outfit I design for her. Soon she’ll be wearing a giant floral print marshmallow or something… well, okay, I have a bit more taste than that. I hope.
Tad becoming a gardener was largely inspired by the classic Finnish artist Hugo Simberg and his painting, Kuoleman puutarha (The Garden of Death) Not that he’d be the only one to ever depict Death as a gardener but he is one that I’m the most familiar with and I love his art so…
Have a great time everyone!