Every year around December, when the sun starts setting at 11am and I feel, sincerely, like I’m dying, some piece of media becomes my unfortunate crutch to consume with wild abandon and wring out every drop of serotonin that can be spared by playing it.
This year’s crutch was Stardew Valley. (The other crutch is/was Destiny 2, but that’s a post for another day.) I buckled down and spent my last dollars on a Chromebook for my birthday, then splurged on my next meager payday and paid $8 for Stardew, figuring it’d be something light I could play wherever I wanted.
I mean, I was mostly right. And I was sucked in immediately. I walked around penniless with jars of mayonnaise, giving some to any villager I saw because I was so desperate to make friends. And I gradually, I got through to people. I stumbled across unexpectedly heartwarming cutscenes and started crushing on some of the singles in town. Everyone, basically, except Shane. That guy’s an asshole. But I kept on giving him jars of mayonnaise–and once, a beer, when I wandered into the Stardrop Saloon on his birthday. At my core, I’m a nice person, even to dickheads like Shane.
Yeah. Well if you’ve played the game, you know how Shane’s cutscenes go. Cut to me putting on the clown makeup. Suddenly, it was like, OH WOW, I have to save this guy? He’s my Eurydice that I must rescue from the Underworld that is Joja Mart? That’s why you restore the Community Center, yes? That’s how you win the game, right?
Finally, it was the dumb sort of self-discovery moment that I’ve had a few times in my twenty-eight years of life, where I was like, oh, okay. I get it. Shane pushes away people he loves because he feels unworthy of their love. Shane drinks to cope with just how pangingly empty his life is. Even in the paradise of Stardew Goddamn Valley, the dude can’t find happiness, no matter what he tries. He’s not determined enough to end it all, but he’s close. And if an accident happened, he wouldn’t try to stop it. And a serious accident happening is the only thing that seems to give him some sort of reality check.
Like, I get it, game. I’m Shane. I’ve been Shane. Every winter, I’m some degree of Shane. And somehow, that translated to me falling head-over-heels, bonkers cartoon heart-eyes in love with this character. I want Shane to get better, because I want ME to get better. Shane deserved my character’s love, because I want to believe that I deserve love. And my brain, you know–always spinning a narrative. It started to take shape.
I wrote this first Secret Notes installment in the dark, when I was desperate for something light. Something fluffy and funny. Something like another townsperson discovering hints of a secret relationship in a comedic situation. And like, not to focus on the whole hashtag deep angle for what is, essentially, fan fiction–but I needed this! And I’m proud of how it turned out. So proud, I think, that it needs to live here on my blog.
Secret Notes #1: Harvey
Phone. Ringing. Middle of the night. Harvey rolled over and groaned before answering.
“Dr. Harvey speaking.” He frowned. “Shane? Are you okay? What’s going on?”
On the other end—panic. Through the fog of sleep, Harvey recalled Shane’s admission for ETOH and suicidal ideations. He bolted upright, suddenly awake.
“I’m glad you reached out to someone. Are you alone? Do you need me to—” More panicked whispering. Some of it ruder than Hervey would have liked. But he wouldn’t be judgmental, even if it was… Jeez, only eleven-thirty?
Still. Shane was going through a lot—and the road to recovery was bumpy.
“Okay. Okay. I’m listening. You met a girl—” He rubbed his eyes. There was more backstory than he was used to. “You’re at her place. Okay…?” Congratulations, Shane. Rub it in, why don’t you? Harvey sighed. Maybe he should try getting out more. Head down to the Stardrop Saloon more nights than he did. Plenty of single people here in Stardew Valley—more than one would expect for a town this size. But he was also the town’s only doctor. It complicated things.
“Have you guys been drinking tonight?”
It was the first straight answer he got out of Shane: a resounding no. Well, that was a good sign, at least.
“Okay, so your lady friend…”
Shane explained it again, slowly this time. He could hear someone in the background, obviously uncomfortable, groaning in between Shane’s whispered apologies, pleading for him to hang up.
“You said she’s been burned?” Harvey swung his legs over the side of his bed, mentally tallying what he would need to make a house call for a burn. If it was bad enough, they might have to get on his radio and arrange for an airlift. But if it were that bad, she’d be in much greater pain… “What kind of burn—oil? Steam? Fire? Was she cooking? Is her skin bubbling at the site of the—oh. Burning?”
He stopped. Listened.
“Poppers?” Harvey thumbed through the mental inventory of street names for drugs back from his residency days on the ED rotation. It had been a while. “What kind of pill…? Oh. Peppers? I thought you said poppers. …What the hell is a Pepper Popper? Like a… hot pepper? Okay, so the spiciness from the pepper got from you to her…”
“Does she have milk in the house?” he asked, the sleepiness returning to his voice. Nobody’s life was in any danger tonight, thank goodness. He could relax.
“Goat milk? …I guess that could work. I don’t see why not.” Harvey shook his head. Goat milk! The strange fad diets people adopted these days. Harvey described in concise detail the regimen that would soothe the burning and suggested application of a topical ointment afterward. He heard the sound of water running in the background of the call. Shane thanked him profusely, said he really owed him one, and hung up before Harvey could tell him to call back if it didn’t do the trick.
He lay back on his pillow. Surely, Shane knew he could call back. And at least he’d had the sense to call in the first place.
Harvey smiled. After more than a year, his patient suffering from isolation and severe depression had gotten out of the house to somewhere besides work and gone home with a date! There was no understating it: that was progress. It warmed his heart—even if it sounded like things had gone awry with the couple’s romantic evening.
Who knows? Maybe they’d make it work. Maybe the lady friend would be impressed by Shane’s initiative in such a tense and awkward situation. Maybe they’d fall in love, and Harvey would tell the story of this night at their wedding (after getting permission from Shane and the lady friend, of course), and everyone would laugh and applaud, and Shane would offer a toast to Harvey, thanking him for prescribing him to start therapy all those years ago because he’d been in such a dark place and if he hadn’t gotten Harvey’s help to get better that he’d never have met his lady friend and had that night with the Hot Pepper Poppers where they realized they were falling in love with one another. And everyone would solemnly clap, and Shane would hug him like the brother he’d never had, and they’d both fight back tears, and Harvey would sit down with the date that he’d brought to Shane’s wedding—he didn’t know who just yet, but for simplicity’s sake in this fantasy it was the Farmer Girl who he’d just recently gotten to know and imagined she had fallen for him over the course of a long and respectful courtship—and she would squeeze his hand and ask if she could steal him away for a little while, and they’d walk around the venue and talk about their own Pepper Popper moments over the years, and they would find themselves alone in a moment so perfect that Harvey would find all the right words and spontaneously propose using the ring he’d carried around in his pocket for months now… And she’d cry and laugh and say…
Harvey drifted off into a heavy, snoring sleep.
The following Monday, he’d practically forgotten the entire thing.
That is, until that morning when he popped into Pierre’s to grab something quick for breakfast before his first appointment. Farmer Girl was at the counter, handing off a box of fresh produce to Pierre, who couldn’t have looked more delighted.
“I know some folks in town who will be just crazy about these. And you can’t get heat like this from Joja Mart, that’s for sure.” He looked up as Harvey wandered up to the counter, showing the contents of the box. “What do you think, Harvey? Want to take a couple home? Maybe they have some kind of medicinal use!” He picked a bright, waxy pepper out of the box and held it up like a prospector examining a nugget of gold. “You don’t have to be a professional chef or anything. A little goes a long way…”
“Oh, you don’t have to tell me,” Harvey said, snorting as he suddenly remembered the panicked call from Shane. “I dealt with a call this weekend from a young man and his date, who had a little disaster cooking with…”
But as the words came out of his mouth, Farmer Girl turned slowly and deliberately to look in his direction.
“…With?” Pierre prompted.
Farmer Girl set her jaw, eyes pleading.
“With…” Those. Exact. Peppers.
Harvey felt his face growing as red as the hot peppers in the box before him. “Ahem. Actually, I shouldn’t say. Doctor-patient confidentiality… and all that.”
Farmer Girl cleared her throat. “I should go.”
Pierre started for the register. “Well, let me just get what I owe you—”
But she was gunning for the door.
“Well—okay, stop by and I’ll pay you tomorrow! Oh—and bring some more of that goat milk if you can!”
The shop door banged the bell as she departed. Pierre frowned again and turned to Harvey.
“Huh. Wonder who lit a fire under her!”