He wondered about Constance all week.
What she said.
How she was.
Maybe he knew. That’s why he’d been attracted to her – a shared past.
Nah, Gage shook his head as he continued driving. That’s stupid. I didn’t know.
“Are you all right, my sweet?”
He glanced briefly over at Lè sitting in the passenger seat on the bus. She looked concerned as her brow furrowed. He squeezed her hand.
“I’m fine, my love,” he replied.
Just freaking nervous! He put a deposit on the house in Dogwood Park with his application just this morning. The realtor gave him keys and told him to check out the house this evening like a test drive. I can do that, he cleared his throat and straightened his tie. This can be a trial run for Lè and I.
Gage was certain she would be thrilled. He was thinking about their future together- the cozy winter nights in front of the fireplace he would build, and the weekends they would spend reupholstering the furniture and papering the walls together. That’s what normal couples did right? He’d even asked Billy for a raise. The man had surprisingly and immediately wrote him a check and sent it in the mail. He was getting the raise.
Gage thought about the dinners they would make together in the kitchen, the parties they would have in the backyard, and the love they’d make in the bedroom. He could picture himself mowing the lawn on Saturday mornings and Lè collecting the mail and waving to their neighbors, the Lobos family. He wondered if Lè would ride along with him to Simcago for his classes, and some days, they would stay and have a fancy meal. Maybe they’d even go dancing. Did Lè dance?
And someday, they would make beautiful babies. Their children would crawl around on the kitchen floor and bounce on daddy’s lap on the couch. Lè would teach the children about Anima and the spirit of life all around them. He would teach the kids how to paint and make a mean blanket fort. They would take their kids to visit the fish hatchery and play on the haystacks in their great aunt Missy’s yard. They would go for swims at the community pool, and take the terrier pup for walks in Dogwood Playland… where I saw Constance.
Gage tried to shake the thoughts of the other woman out of his head, but he couldn’t. He still saw her sad face clearly in his mind. The tears in her eyes haunted him. He recalled many nights of crying himself to sleep before he lived with the Martinez family – the nights where he went without a good meal, the nights where he would have to take baths in a local pond, the nights when he was beaten for forgetting something or just because he was a nuisance. Constance shares that with me. He had a newfound compassion for her… a compassion he couldn’t afford.
He squeezed his eyes shut. I’m with Lè. I’m with Lè. I’m with Lè.
“Gage, you’re squeezing the circulation out of my hand,” Lè patted his arm with her free hand.
The bus’ brakes whooshed to a halt, and Gage inhaled sharply, realizing they were close.
“Sorry,” he muttered. “Um… we’re here.”
“Okay,” she looked up with an unknowing smile and linked arms with him.
They walked around the corner to the house. Gage’s heart pounded with every step. Our future home. His legs felt like lead, and Lè followed along, completely oblivious to his inner dilemma.
“What are we doing here?” she asked when he stopped before the stone walkway.
“This… here…” his voice squeaked. He cleared his throat and tried again. “I put a deposit on this house…” Lè’s eyes widened with surprise. “…for a home…”
“Gage, that is wonderful, indeed,” Lè smiled and patted his shoulders. “You’re going to be a homeowner?”
“Yes,” he said, shakily. “And I’d like you to be too.”
She frowned. “What do you mean?”
“I’d like to buy this house for us…” he said quickly before he lost his nerve.
She dropped her arms in shock.
“…and we can make it into our home. It’s not perfect, and it needs some work, but I think we can do this. I want to do this for us… for our future. And I know I’m young and you’re young and we’ve got the rest of our lives so why rush? But I really want this… and I have some money from my… uh…” he didn’t know what to call Jennifer since he hadn’t told Lè fully about his past. “…mom… who passed away. It’s not much to look at I know, but it’s something, for us.”
Lè looked around, inspecting the building and scanning the yard. She took his hand and offered him a small smile. “Show me inside.”
“Oh wow!” Gage rubbed his head as they stepped into the pale-yellow-and-brown checkered kitchen.
The color palette was worse than he had remembered. He thought the yellow had been bright and sunny during his day time visit, and he knew the earthy brown was Lè’s favorite color. Yet now, in the evening, everything seemed nauseatingly overwhelming.
“We can do some work, of course, as time and budget allows,” Gage added. “I have some money saved up.”
“Mmmhmm…” Lè said, reaching a finger down and wiping some dust off the kitchen sink.
“I can build us a table… a real one,” Gage added.
“Okay,” she said.
“I have a dinner for us in the refrigerator. Nothing too fancy, but we can christen our crappy table in with it,” he walked over to the refrigerator and opened the door. “I’ve got some fresh fruit and cold cuts from the market, and a bottle of the cheapest wine I could find since I’m a bit tight now… with the deposit on this place…”
They walked into the bathroom.
Gage chuckled weakly. “I guess the awful tile extends into here too.”
“Hmm…” Lè gingerly touched a yellow tile on the wall at eye level.
“We can replace it… if you hate it,” Gage said.
They stepped into the bedroom. The walls were thankfully not yellow-and-brown tile, but the yellow-and-thin-brown-striped wallpaper wasn’t much better. The carpet was an ugly lemongrass green, and the double bed was fitted with caramel-and-buttercream-checkered sheets and a yellowed space-themed bedspread, clashing with the antiquated silver bed frame. Gage panicked as he saw Lè rubbing her chin thoughtfully. What is she thinking? He suddenly was noticing everything that was wrong – the peeling paper along the baseboard, the red wine stain on the carpet, the splintering wood on the door, the squeaky bed, and the ugly-as-hell color schemes. But this is all I can afford in a semi-furnished house.
Lè turned to face him, and he felt his palms sweating, hoping she wouldn’t reach for them. She didn’t.
“Uh, Gage… I… don’t know what to say.”
“You hate it!”
“No, I do not hate it, but the colors could use some work.”
“I know. We can fix it.”
“You mean, you can fix it.”
Gage blinked, wondering if he heard her correctly.
“Gage, I can’t live here. I already have a home.”
His heart fell to the bottomless pit of his stomach. In all of his daydreaming, he hoped she’d help him fix up this crazy yellowed house and make it their home. Not once had he expected her to say no.
“Well, I thought you could leave the collective and live with me. We could be together,” he said, trying to think of more eloquent words to convince her.
“Gage, the Cherry Moon Collective is my home. My people live there. I live there. You could live there if you want to live with me. But I cannot live here,” Lè shook her head.
“But… why?” he hated how his voice cracked, showing his emotions.
“I can’t leave my people. They are my family.”
“But plenty of people grow up and move out and leave their families.”
“The Collective is not like that.”
“What? Because you’re the den moeder? Isn’t that supposed to be a werewolf? Damon’s a werewolf. Why can’t he do it?”
“Because Nativians are matriarchal. It must be a woman.”
“Then find another woman.”
Lè stomped her foot in annoyance. “It doesn’t work like that, Gage, and you know it.”
“No, no, no I don’t. I don’t because I’m not Nativian. Is this about me not being good enough?” Gage took a step back and waved his arms.
“Oh wow! Gage. Do not go there. Your brain jumps to conclusions. It is not. I’m not. I can’t leave,” Lè replied passionately. “I am bound to my people. I am Nativian.”
“But you’re a si’brid. You’re part Simmian.”
“But I embrace my Nativian heritage.”
“And you reject everything Simmian?”
“That is not true. Gage, you don’t understand because you’ve grown up in a modern world where you have always fit in. My people have chosen to respect the land and our ancestors practices, beliefs, and life styles. Because of that, we are peia. We are outcast.”
“I know a little something about being outcast, Lè, you shouldn’t judge me.”
“I wouldn’t fit in out here in the real world.”
“You don’t know until you try.”
“Gage, I can’t abandon my people. I just can’t. Don’t ask me to give that up. I will not do that to them. We are all peia. Damon can’t go home. He’s exiled from his pack. Heather was abandoned as a baby because she is a witch. My Nativian mother was nearly killed because she mated with a Simmian man. She sent me to live with my father’s relatives because I was unacceptable in her tribe. When I turned eighteen, I left the city and never looked back. And the others… they all have similar back stories.”
“When those of us at the Cherry Collective found each other, we made a blood pact. We will protect each other. We will stay together no matter what. You can’t ask me to break that pact, Gage. I am their guide and spiritual leader. I am their mentor and their friend. I am their sister. I belong there. If I left, I could never live with myself. I would be wakama. I would be shamed. You just wouldn’t understand.”
Gage sighed heavily, and pulled Lè into an embrace. He understood more than she realized, but he couldn’t tell her that. He held her for a long while, wrapping his head around everything she said. She was rejected. She’s not rejecting me. Just my way of life. And my plans. And for good reasons. Good solid reasons. Still he couldn’t dismiss the aching pit in his stomach where he was supposed to have delicious celebratory food instead.
“I should’ve asked you about it first.”
“It’s okay,” she kissed him. “I am sorry I cannot live here. But we will make you a home at the Collective if you want. If this is really the step forward you would like us to take.”
He sighed. He wouldn’t be at home there. She is just being nice.
“Are you hungry?” he changed the subject.
“Not really,” she made a face. “I’m actually pretty tired.”
“Well, we have the place for the night. Would you like to sleep?”
“Sleep would be good.”
Gage allowed Lè to use the bathroom first. He could hear the running water through the thin walls, and wished he had the sense to talk with her before he put in an application for a home. Of course, it made sense she would want to stay with the only real family she had ever known. He understood that. Jennifer and Pablo had been that for him. Even so, he had hoped, in the bottom of his heart, Lè would want to make a home with him. It was foolish. Stupid. She had responsibilities to the Cherry Moon Collective. She was the leader, and she couldn’t just leave. Why hadn’t he thought of that? If their relationship was going to last, he would need to start thinking differently and acting differently. He would need to do his research and decide if he really could fit in with the Collective.
He was slightly jealous. The bond they had. How they felt like a family, no matter how non-traditional. His Aunt Missy had been welcoming, but scattered. She was busy with her work at the community center, picking the pockets of unsuspecting seniors. Rhoda could care less about him. She slept all day and worked all night, dressed in the oddest of outfits. He was pretty certain the Outstanding Citizen Warehouse Corp was a cover for all sorts of nefarious activities. And Sam was busy as a full-time student with a long-distance girlfriend and a job at the town market. He didn’t really have time for hangout sessions. His supposed “family” had been an utter disappointment. Kass had been right to be concerned.
Don’t think about Kass, he chided internally, as he crawled into the bed of his almost-house-home-place.
Still, he couldn’t help but wonder what she was doing as he tried to fall asleep. Lè was already breathing heavily so he couldn’t continue his conversation with her. Why is it I have the worst luck with women?
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