Heartwood,  Monte Vista Stories,  Stories

Heartwood | One: The Hermit

Lia stepped out of the car and right into a deep mud puddle. She felt her heel sink in with a sickening, squishy sensation and had to grab the car roof to not sink in further. The rainstorms of the last few days had turned the whole forest into a muddy nightmare, already difficult enough to drive through to get to the far-off cabin. And now her best heels were ruined.

“You okay there, Lia?” called Costanza from inside the car.

“Perfectly,” she said through gritted teeth.

Constanza got out of the driver’s seat and took a deep breath through the nose, her face lighting up like it was kissed by the sun.

“Oh, I do love this place,” she said. “I know you’ll love it, too, Lia.”

Lia looked up, trying to scrape mud from her shoe with a stick. She reminded herself of her work and how important this was—it was her chance to gain valuable experience and possibly to make a name for herself as a journalist… That didn’t mean she would love it, however.

“I’m sure I shall love it,” Lia lied with as bright a smile as she could muster.

It was a white lie, but Lia thought it necessary. Besides wanting to get ahead in her career, she wanted to better herself. Her relationship with Costanza hadn’t always been as jovial as it was now and her insides still twisted, thinking of the things she said. If Lia had been in Costanza’s shoes, she wouldn’t have spoken to her again, let alone befriended her… but that was why she was married to Lorenzo and Lia wasn’t.

“I used to love coming here when I was younger,” Costanza continued, looking around the place with a dreamy sigh, “but we got to go so rarely.”

Lia, finally done scraping her shoe, took a careful step mostly on her toes to see if she could keep from sinking in again. She managed a few steps, then the other shoe sank.

Damn it.

“You don’t want to wear shoes like that out here,” said a gruff voice.

Lia looked up with equal parts excitement and apprehension. The man who owned the house was the son of an author she had enjoyed unusually much. So much so, in fact, that she would have gladly gone to one of those ghastly signing events with long lines of people, just to get a signature. Of course, her father never would have allowed it and Stefano Como died before she moved out, so now all that was left of him besides the books was the man who stood looking at her stiffly.

Teodoro Como. He was a broad-shouldered man with a square jaw and dark grey eyes. His hair had streaks of grey, despite the fact that he couldn’t have turned forty. However, most striking of all was his size. He was tall, much taller than average, with strong arms and a chest that bulged with muscles.

She had never understood the appeal of this type of man. His shirt wasn’t tucked in, his boots were dirty, and the hand he offered her was rough with the kind of callouses you only got from working hard every day. Lia knew that some women were mad for this kind of man—someone who was good with his hands, who exuded a casual, masculine kind of aura. She would have sworn it had no effect on her whatsoever and yet… something about him was attractive.

“Teodoro Como, I assume?” she said.

He nodded shortly and replied in a deep, rumbling voice: “The very same. You’re the journalist lady?” he asked.

“Rosalia Cavalcante,” she said, feeling a little embarrassed that she felt chills running down her spine at the sound of his voice. “I’m very happy you agreed to consider me for the biography, Mr. Como.”

He made a non-committal sound in his throat and turned to Costanza. Lia blinked a few times, thinking it must be circumstance. He must be in bad sorts today to act like this. He wasn’t… actually like this ordinarily. Surely.

“It’s so good to see you, cousin Teo,” said Costanza, walking over to give him a hug. “I hope you don’t mind my coming as well. I only wanted to make sure Lia could find her way.” When he spoke again, it was with an annoyed grunt.

“Sure, if she couldn’t find it herself, I guess it was necessary… You should probably come inside.”

Then he abruptly turned around and went into the cabin. So, she must assume, he was like this. Lia blinked, then felt cool anger stirring in her chest and her girlish attraction vanished. She looked at Teo’s back and turned to Costanza, who smiled apologetically.

“I think I mentioned he’s something of a hermit.” Her voice was low, so it wouldn’t travel inside.

“He’s intolerably rude,” Lia whispered back.

“He doesn’t see a lot people, so he doesn’t always know how to be polite around others, but it’s worth it. I mean, he built this place all by himself—it’s impressive, isn’t it?”

Costanza looked up at the building and Lia followed her gaze to the walls this man had erected himself. It was built of stacked logs and had tall windows that came to a peak under slanted roofs. This was an impressive feat for one man to have built… at least she guessed so, as she didn’t know the first thing about building.

Just then, he happened to stick his head out the door.

“I’m supposed to offer you things, right? Tea? Coffee?”

Both of them said tea was fine and they walked inside. The room they had entered was a kitchen and dining area that smelled of lavender, sage, and freshly baked bread. There was obviously electricity in the house, but the oven wasn’t a regular one or even one running on gas—it was a wood-burning stove built of bricks, with a fire crackling behind a glass door and the room was marked by the scent of wood smoke.

Ahead of her was an entry to the living room, a room which had tall windows that let in the last, golden light of the afternoon sun. In there, too, was a fireplace, as well as tall, heavy bookcases and brown leather furniture. She was half-tempted to go exploring in the house, to see if there were any hints of the father, but then the son’s voice reminded her where she was.

“You can sit. I mean, unless you’d rather just stand around like that…”

Lia plastered a lovely smile on her face, hoping that she had masked her anger in time. She did try so hard to be pleasant, even when the people she spoke to didn’t make it easy.

They took a seat around the kitchen table, though not until Costanza had sent her another apologetic look. Teo was on a stool that was small for his size and which creaked ominously under his weight.

“So,” he said looking at Lia, “you want to write the rest of the book about me?”

“Yes, it was Costanza’s suggestion.”

Costanza beamed, but her cousin obviously didn’t share her excitement.

“Why did you say yes?” he asked.

Lia cocked her head. “I’m interested. I heard about the place you’ve built here as well as the connection with your father—obviously I’m interested in both your life and how his books have affected the work you’ve done here.”

He looked into the ceiling, muttering something under his breath. After a while, he looked at her. “My dad had nothing to do with this place. Never saw it before he died.”

“Everyone is influenced to some degree by their parents, even when they’re no longer there.”

I would know.

“Yeah, well I don’t really want him to be part of the biography at all,” Teo grunted. “Don’t see why it needs to be about him. I don’t want it to get too personal.”

The kettle on the stove whistled as the water boiled inside, and Teo went to take it off and make tea.

He wants me to write a biography… that’s not personal? Lia thought.

She shared a look with Costanza, whose face seemed stuck in apology—if this kept going, her expression would never return to normal. Teo set tea out for each of them and they drank in awkward silence. The first to break it was Costanza and her voice was less like happy birdsong than usual, even though she obviously tried.

“I’m sure a biography about you would be just lovely,” she said, “and it would be an important selling point that Stefano Como is your dad. Don’t you see? People are so interested in him and they’ll love a book about his son.”

He shook his head. “I guess.”

Lia wasn’t sure if she wanted to bury her head in her hands or scream at him. She had, of course, heard the old adage that you shouldn’t meet your heroes, but nobody had warned her of meeting her hero’s son. She angled her legs towards the door so she would be able to make a quick escape and she noticed that Teo had moved his stool further from the table, creating more distance between them.

“How do you want to start working, Lia?” Costanza asked. As always, she read the room and tried to ease the tension.

“I’ll start with the data the other journalists gathered. Do you still have it?”

“Yeah. Give me a minute.” Teo’s shoulders sank in relief.

He walked off to the song of creaky floorboards and as soon as he was gone, Costanza turned to Lia with a pleading look in her eyes.

“Please give it a chance,” she said in a low voice. “I know he’s rough around the edges, but I promise he’s a sweetheart and he needs your help.”

Lia had trouble imagining Teo was a sweetheart. Attractive, yes. Interesting, without a shadow of a doubt… but sweet? She shook her head and his cousin defended him quickly.

“I swear, he’s like this with all strangers. The first time I brought Lorenzo out here, he communicated in nothing but grunts and monosyllables. Now that he’s used to him, he’s much more jovial.” Costanza reached over and placed a hand on Lia’s arm. “It would mean so much to me if you would consider it. He moved out here to get away from everything and it would be hard for him if he had to leave.”

“Get away from everything? What is everything?”

“I don’t know.” Costanza took her hand back and wrung it. “He wouldn’t say and he always rejects any offers of help.”

Costanza looked at her pleadingly just as Teo came back in the room with a binder.

“Here are all the things they gathered,” he said, putting it on the table in front of her. “You can bring it with you and read it; if you still want to do it after that, we’ll talk.”

Lia bit back a question—Why do you expect me back off after reading the notes?—and leafed through the binder… She would need to read it closely later, but it seemed like they were ordinary notes, a mix of handwritten and typed.

“I’d love to,” she said. “When I’ve read it I’ll come back and we can talk.”

“Sure,” he grumbled.

Costanza sprang out of her seat. “Well, in that case, we won’t bother you anymore, Teo.”

She gave him another hug, as well as a kiss on the cheek, and this time he returned the hug, which made this the first hint of affection for his cousin. Lia said her goodbyes as well and then the two of them walked to the car and left the cabin behind. Lia clutched the binder to her chest, her head pounding unpleasantly the whole walk; it wasn’t helped by her heels sinking into the ground again.

They were silent for a while after driving off and when Costanza’s voice cracked the silence, it was unsure and careful. Her eyes bled concern for Teo, a casual display of emotion that made it obvious why Lorenzo fell for her. He, too, was an openly warm and caring person, much like his wife.

“I know he’s not easy to get along with,” Costanza said, “but if you’d consider helping, I know he’ll be grateful.”

“I… Costanza, he doesn’t seem to want it written at all.”

She winced. “I know. The other journalists… there’s a reason they quit. He may not be easy to work with until he gets to know you.”

“I don’t know. Why would I have more luck than the others? I’ve been doing this for no more than a year and I still do stories on ducks being saved from storm drains.”

Costanza stopped at a T-crossing and looked around before turning right, down a proper asphalt road that led back to the city.

“I believe you can do it, Lia. Lorenzo always says that you’re very astute and intelligent—he suggested I talk to you, in fact.”

Lia bit her tongue to keep what she wanted to say from spilling out: But Lorenzo hates me. What Costanza was saying sounded sweet, but obviously it was something she had invented. Though Lia and Lorenzo had been close once—close enough that spending time with his wife was slightly awkward—they weren’t any longer. These days they were civil when they met at her brothers’ house, but his wife was friendlier with her than he was.

Finally, after a long silence, Costanza spoke again.

“Please say you’ll try, Lia. Please.”

Lia didn’t answer right away, but even while she mulled it over, she knew there was no way she could say no. Yes, Teo was a curmudgeon, but he was the son of her favourite author, and he was willing to let her take a stab at it, despite the fact that she was a new journalist with barely a years’ experience.

Most vitally, it was her chance to show that she had made something of herself. A biography with her name on it would almost seem like proof. Something physical to thrust in the face of all the people who said she was nothing but a pretty face, who wouldn’t amount to anything but a trophy wife.

Finally, she nodded even though Costanza’s eyes were firmly on the road.

“I’ll do it,” she said.

Author’s notes: Hi guys! I hope you enjoyed this first chapter of Heartwood. This is pretty much me back again, though with a caveat. Back when doing gen 2 with the schedule, I didn’t feel like I could do anything but generation 2 and it’s not my style. I like doing multiple stories at a time because I have no sense of self-preservation, so this time I don’t have a set schedule. I’ll endeavour to get a chapter out every other week like I used to, but if it slips because I’m busy starting yet another project I’ll never share or just gaming a lot, that’s what it is. I hope that’s okay to you all.

Thanks so much if you read through all of this for some reason and I’ll see you in the next post.

Cheers!

25 Comments

    • NotJustaBook

      Ha, ha, yeah, some days I don’t think I’d mind this kind of life! All you’ve got to do is build your own cabin in the woods, I guess. 🤣
      Thanks for reading! 😊

  • audreyfld

    If I read through all of this for some reason … are you kidding! I adore your mysteries and your pictures are lovely. I spend as much time looking at them as I do reading and rereading! Just the steam from the kettle or coming from the hot cups of tea added a bit of realism. And the re-shade effects soften it as well. I’m so glad you’re back. ❤️ Teo is indeed a giant of a man! I think Lia May have met a real challenge. She wants to run but at the same time she wants to do this. The book he gave her may change her mind and make her more determined than ever to break through his rough exterior and find out why he holes himself up away from everyone. Very interested to see where this goes. Great beginning! ❤️

    • NotJustaBook

      Ha, ha, I’m really glad you enjoy reading through these, Audrey, and it means so much to hear your thoughts. I’m really glad you like the pictures, as I’m trying for a different style. ❤
      Ha, ha, yup, he’s huuuge! I have a lot of fun with the height difference between him and Lia. 😁
      Yeah, it’s not going to be easy for her but yeah, we’ll have to see what the notes reveal. I can’t wait to share more of the story – I hope you’ll enjoy it. 😊
      Thanks for reading, dear. It means a ton. 😊❤

  • Jes2G

    Heh, this is going to be rich lol. Man, being friends with your old boo’s wife? Yikes! That’s gutsy but it seems to be working out so far.

    • NotJustaBook

      Ha, ha, yeah, there’s going to be some clashing between these two. 😂
      It’s a weird friendship for sure, lol, but yeah it’s working out. 😁
      Thanks for reading!

  • lazysunjade

    Hope you don’t mind me reading this even though I don’t know everybody’s whole backstories, but I figured maybe it was enough to read it as a standalone, and I can get the gist of things from your inserts. Concerning your author’s note, god I totally know what you mean. I have that exact same problem/situation, where when I work on something I feel like I can’t do anything else. It’s hard not to pigeonhole yourself into something, and it can really grate against your workflow. I’ve tried to avoid it but m e h. Brain. I wish I could be better at multitasking. Having different projects going would make me a lot less stressed in certain areas, and way more in others xD Anyways all this babble is neither here nor there lol. Onto story stuff!

    I love how you can tell right away how different Teo and Lia are. Complete opposites in almost every way from their style of dress to their attitudes and culture. Which is absolutely great because I’m such a heaux for the opposites attract trope. I really adore the pictures so much, and you editing makes them even more immersive, like the dirt on her shoe and the car exhaust (actually I’m not sure if you added that or if that’s in the game, sorry xD). But just really cool shots overall, it makes the story that much more realistic. You can definitely see Costanza trying to play the peacekeeper, and Lia’s just not really having it lol. For the time being, she seems pretty fueled by her own desires, but I’m getting the vibe that addage is going to become her reality. It seems like, from Teo’s sim-body language, that maybe his dad wasn’t all as great as he was said to be, and Lia is going to find her hero very disappointing. Either way, definitely sensing tension between Teo and his late father. Interested to know what the issues were there, and why Teo became so reclusive. Bad memories in the city? :thinking: I’m very into the nature vs nurture idea and I feel like you can see both of Lia and Teo’s upbringings shining through even though I don’t know anything about them!

    It’ll be interesting to see how these two characters move around together. Similar to Lila’s story, I just love seeing two people with a lot of friction grow together, and I’m excited to see it here, too. Great chapter! Looking forward to the next one whenever it comes! Take your time ♥

    • NotJustaBook

      I absolutely don’t mind. It’s why I made the little recap before this. I like my stories to be stand-alone because honestly gen 2 is novel-length and who has that kind of time these days. 🤣
      Ha, ha, I’m at least blessed with a brain that likes to work on more than one thing at a time. One ends up dominating but it kind of changes which one it is. Sometimes I’m in the mood for my overly dramatic love stories and other times it’s more mysteries, so thankfully I just shift depending on my mood.

      They’re definitely very different people and from very different upbringings, so I’m glad that’s coming through. I’m always very aware of the differences in the way they speak and dress and their attitudes towards things. 😊
      Ha, ha, and honestly I’m kind of pleased you’re not sure if it’s editing. The car exhaust is edited in (the car was totally still when I took the photo, lol), but I’m just pleased that i looks like it belongs. I’m generally doing as many things in-game as I possibly can because editing things in realistically can be very hard and I’m not that great at it. 🙃
      Ha, ha, I imagine Costanza would be used to trying to broker peace between her cousin and others because he *is* a bit prickly. 😂 She tries, bless her, but yeah, Lia isn’t convinced. She doesn’t have high tolerance for poor manners.
      Both Lia and Teo definitely have things in their upbringing that’s made them who they are now, that’s for sure! Tbh, Lia’s entire upbringing was a shit show. 🙃

      I can’t wait to showcase more of their dynamic. It was really hard to pin down, but I think it’s working. Thanks so much for reading, Jade. It was a pleasure to hear your thoughts. 😊❤

  • Lila Remonn

    Yay, I’m ~finally~ here and completely caught up after that mega binge 😂
    Lia is quite funny in her own way, because of how fish out of water she is in this rustic woodland setting. High heels were definitely not the best choice, haha. I wonder if after some more visits, she may began to change her style to fit better with the environment. Now I’m imagining her in big boots and a checkered shirt, which is an odd image 😮
    Contanza is such a sweetheart, trying to make this rather awkward situation lighter with little avail. She’s very cute~
    I’m really intrigued by Teo’s defensive, unwelcoming exterior and his seemingly negative relationship with his famous father. Super excited for Lia to begin peeling back the layers of this gruff, mysterious man (who reminds me of a grizzly bear) and discover what his deal is!
    An awesome beginning to Lia’s story, I’m very much looking forward to seeing how it will unfold 💖

    • NotJustaBook

      Ha, ha, grats on getting through all my wordiness! 🤣 I should sell T-shirts for the survivors of gen 2.
      Yeah, this is definitely not her type of area, though hopefully it’ll grow on her as she gets to know it. Lol at the thought of Lia in boots and a checkered shirt. 🤣 But she’ll probably have to adjust her footwear if she’s to make it in the woods.
      Yeah, Stanza is a dear. 😊 Very much a bleeding heart who just wants everyone to get along!
      I can’t wait to start revealing his personality. I’m having a lot of fun writing him. I think the image of him as a big grizzly bear is rather apt, lol.
      Thanks so much Lila! And thanks a bunch for reading along! 😄❤

  • simnights

    tbh Teo reminds me of my Joaquin in a couple decades, lol, only Joaquin won’t be single… 😏

    I’m excited for this! I hope I won’t have to know too much about the preceding stories because i’m always excited to start and just jump in.

    • NotJustaBook

      Ha, ha, I think you’re right there, lol. 😅

      I’m happy to have you along for the ride! It’s my intention to make it as standalone as I can. You can always check out the chapter before this (Lia’s Story so Far), it’s a brief recap of events leading up to this and if anything doesn’t make sense, just ask and I’ll clarify! 😊

      Thanks for reading!

  • amyqueen

    And so, we begin Lia’s journey~ Hooray! I wanted to wait until I had a good amount of time on my hands so I could enjoy this properly. It took me twice as long to finish because I was staring at your photos XD they are so lovely. The fact you made everything from scratch is especially impressive. It’s cool to see how it went from the shell of the cabin you shared with us when you started, to this very homey looking place. All the little details like the clothes hanging on the line outside, the boots on the floor by the door, and all the steam coming off of the hot beverages and kettle just breathe a bit of extra life into the story. Bravo 🤩

    Now, as for the characters themselves, Costanza really is a sweetheart (and a pretty, pretty gal). Considering who she is you’d never expect her to be friends with Lia, but here they are. It’s funny how Lorenzo has become kind of distant, but here’s his wife being an adorable ray of super friendly sunshine. Lia certainly has her work cut out for her. Teo and her couldn’t be more different. I can’t wait to see her crack through this wall he has up and see why he’s become so distant from the rest of society as well as the relationship he had with his dad. I’m also looking forward to slow romantic developments and lots, and lots of teasing, hehe. This was a great start! Excited for more 😄💗

    • NotJustaBook

      Yay! I’m glad to have you reading along, Amy. 😊❤ And so glad that you enjoyed the pictures. I’m trying a different style with focus on little details and I feel like it’s working out. It was fun to create the cabin and I feel like it was part of characterising Teo.

      Costanza is a really sweet, cheerful kind of girl. And yeah, it’s pretty unusual that she’s friends with Lia and Lorenzo has stepped back, but maybe we’ll get to see what her thinking is on it. 😊
      And yeah, they’re rather different. I’m looking forward to sharing more of the story and how it progresses. There will definitely be plenty of that!

      Thanks for reading, Amy! 😄❤

  • twinsimskeletons

    I’m intruiged as to why Teo needs help, but I suspect we’ll get to that later 😉
    it’s a lovely start. I think you’ve captured the three of them really well, and of course the pics are gorgeous. Though I winced at the thought of that lovely shiny car out in the sticks haha. And that binder *drools*. Tabbed and everything!
    Sorry it took me so long, but the anticipation on my end was worth it. <3

    • NotJustaBook

      Oh we’ll get into what he’s all about, that’s for sure. 🙂
      I’m really glad you enjoyed the start, Carys. Ha, ha, pretty sure Lia feels the same pain. I love that binder item! So well done. 🙂
      You know it’s okay, Carys. Whenever you hav the time, I’m happy to have you. Thanks for reading. <3

    • NotJustaBook

      Yay for being invested. I can’t wait to share all of the story – I think it’ll be fun! I’m happy you like the cabin. It was a labour of love. Thank you, Kym. 💕😊

  • sempreviva

    Yay, and it starts with a bang! And Lia’s destroyed heels 😁
    I love the clear picture of “opposites attract” that you’ve painted here, and I think it will be very interesting to see how their relationship will develop. Of course we only know things from just Lia’s perspective right now, but I’m almost positive that Teo found her just as attractive. I mean, how could he not? The woman is a knockout! 😍
    I really like Teo’s no nonsense, gruff attitude as well as the mystery that already surrounds him. And of course I’d love to read their interactions in the future, I’m sure they will be sooo enjoyable and full of intensity! 😏
    This was sooo great! <3 Now quickly moving on to the next chapter 😀

    • NotJustaBook

      Lololol, indeed. 🤣
      I’m glad you liked it – they’re definitely very different. And you’re probably right. He’s definitely noticed that she’s pretty, that’s for sure. 😊
      So glad you like Teo’s attitude so far. I really hope his interactions with Lia will up to your expectations. I’ve had fun writing them!
      Thanks for reading! 😊❤

  • janet mancini

    I love your writing style and you also have a very good feel for graphic editing. Your choice of pictures, camera angles….very good. A good sense of intimacy in them….and that supports your character building. This is which version of SIMs that you are using?

    • NotJustaBook

      Thank you for the kind words! It means a lot to hear. 😊 Everything on the site is made in The Sims 3 – I never did get into 4.
      Thanks for checking this out! 😊❤

  • socallucyfan

    I am so sorry I am just now seeing this. I just recently noticed that for some reason WordPress accidentally unfollowed several of my blogs.

    I am so excited to see where Lia’s story takes her. Teo seems like a mystery she is up to solving
    .

    • NotJustaBook

      Oh no! That’s so annoying – WP is really weird like that sometimes. But it’s okay. I’m just glad you came around eventually. 😊💕

      I hope you’ll like it – you’re right, Lia is definitely going to do her best to solve this mystery. Thanks for reading! 😊💕

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