Even when with other people, alone.
I kicked the side of the door with my teal pump in frustration. Brendon glanced at me out of the corner of his eye as he drove away from the beach. He didn’t say anything but the tension lines around his eyes made me think he was worried about me. Should he be worried?
It wasn’t like I was in love with him or anything.
I could be bite on the arm and still not know what love is. Not really. Not ever…? That’s what worried me. More than my best friend sleeping with my ex. More than my ex sleeping with my best friend. More than… wait a second… how did Billy even get there? Why was he there? In the Valley? With Ayesha? Why was Ayesha sleeping with him? Why did I care?
Brendon cleared his throat. Awkwardly. Loudly. Pulling me from my thoughts. He reached down and fiddled with the radio dial, but after a moment, he must have decided it wasn’t the best idea to fill the car with music. I wasn’t alone. Even if I want to be, I thought sullenly, propping my elbow against the door frame and exhaling in exasperation. Suddenly, I felt the cold creeping into my bones. I could almost feel my blood stream shiver. The whole situation was enough to make me feel nauseated. I hoped I wouldn’t throw up. Not in Brendon’s car.
I felt a knot in my stomach grow from an apple seed to a peach pit, scraping the sides of my gut. I fidgeted and tugged my gray bolero closer to my shoulders, wishing I had worn my thicker green coat or at least my leather jacket. Either would have kept me warmer. What was I thinking coming out on a night like tonight without a heavier coat? It was almost Simcember.
Brendon didn’t say anything. He drove me back to Casa de la Esperanza without a word. I wondered if he wanted to ask me questions. I didn’t want to answer. Even so I wondered if he wondered. If he worried. If he cared. Why would he care? Do you want him to care, Kass? I huffed as a piece of my hair fell loose in front of my eye, tickling my lashes.
Brendon stepped around to open my door like a gentleman. I let him. At least someone cared about me. Even if it’s just a door. I half-expected him to help me from the vehicle like I was Cinderella leaving the pumpkin carriage. If I wasn’t so preoccupied with my thoughts about Ayesha and Billy, I may have actually grabbed Brendon’s hand. Just to feel something. Because I was feeling numb. Like my body had gone into shock or something and I wasn’t really here. Is anyone really here?
I walked up the small sandy incline from the road to the patio, my heels clicking on the stones. I gasped, looking back at my companion for the evening.
“Uh, thank you, Brendon…” I managed. “I’m sorry about… uh… things…”
“It’s okay, I understand,” he shook his head.
Do you? Really? Does anyone understand? Do I understand? Do I want to understand? Do I want you to understand? Do I want someone? Uh…er…
“I had a good evening,” I said, feeling a rain drop fall on my head and winced. “Really…”
I mustered a half-smile as I stood in the dropping temperature of a late Simvember evening, hoping he didn’t think I was a complete weirdo. I clutched my phone in one hand, my fingers digging into the soft flesh of the rubber casing. As the rain misted a sheet over the courtyard of Casa de la Esperanza, I wondered how long I would have to stand here uncomfortably before he would say something polite and we would part ways.
“No need to apologize, Kassiopeia, really,” he said, buttoning up his shirt to shield his chest from the Mexsimican rains.
Something about this simple gesture made me catch my breath. I couldn’t figure out if it was the way he said my name or if it was because the slick move he had just made was sexy. Gawd! Kassiopeia… what is wrong with you? I had just found out about my ex and my best friend. I didn’t need to be eyeing up other men.
I unconsciously bit my lower lip. Ever since Billy left, I had been busying myself so much, I hadn’t stopped to think, to feel, to breathe. Dad needed me. Then Rosalie needed me. Then Brendon paid attention to me. I felt my foot wobble on the cobblestone, and prayed my heel wouldn’t snap or give way. I wobbled a bit more awkwardly before my heel found its way into the crevice of sand between the stones.
Brendon locked my gaze, piercing through the muddle of my mind with his steely blues. He edged off his car door and walked toward me. Wild horses stampeded, dragging my heart along behind like a hopeless chariot. I wanted to do something, say something, not just stand there like an foolish girl in the rain. I hoped he wouldn’t kiss me. He couldn’t kiss me. Would he? It’s his birthday. Is he expecting a birthday kiss? Was this a date? Am I a date? No… Kass… don’t be an idiot… he said this was a friends thing. I hope he still thinks this is a friends thing. I blinked rapidly, trying to keep my eyes open in case he moved too close for comfort.
He stopped. He bent. He gently tugged on my ankle, lifting my heel out of its wedged position between the stones. I breathed a sigh of relief, grateful he hadn’t kissed me.
“I’ll call a tow for your car,” he said, resuming full height.
“Oh,” I flipped the hair out of my eyes again. “You don’t have to do that.”
Both sides had fallen into disarray by now, probably from munching my head up against Brendon’s car window. I tried to hide my grimace.
“I want to,” his eyes were twinkling as the raindrops fell past, a few catching on his eyelashes.
I forced another smile, feeling the tightened lines forming around the edges. I wasn’t sure what to say. Brendon was constantly keeping me off balance.
“Thanks,” I said, feeling lame.
I could have said thank you. Brendon. Something. More than thanks.
“Good night, Kass.”
I felt a twinge of disappointment as I watched him return to his vehicle and drive away. Why should you, Kass? You’re alone. You’re always alone.
“Llamas!” I cursed aloud, and stomped my foot, nearly losing my balance again. “Idiot,” I murmured under my breath as I stalked toward the guest house.
I couldn’t believe I wanted a practical stranger to kiss me so I’d feel better about being alone.The guest house was dark when I entered. I assumed my father had gone to bed, but I found him curled up on the couch, still fully clothed. Sighing, I debated waking him, but decided it would be best to find him a blanket. I covered my dad, slipped out of my shoes, and stealthily tiptoed upstairs. Howard must not have had the strength to climb to his room. I smiled wistfully, dropping my keys quietly on the nightstand and flopping on the bed. I could take a shower, but that would mean waiting for the pipes to heat up so I would have enough hot water. The place was finicky. Plus I could risk waking dad since the pipes were temperamental and squeaky.
Instead, I changed to my green leafy pajamas Mamma sent me for my birthday. The cotton was soft and delicate. I could almost smell my mother’s faint jasmine perfume on the cloth. I closed my eyes, admiring my early birthday present. I fingered the lapel, absently remembering Brendon’s popped collar. He was nothing like Billy. Billy wore practically collarless shirts with open buttons exposing his hairy chest. I thought of the chest, of fingers intertwined in hair, of other hands touching him, of his hands touching someone else. I whimpered involuntarily, and stumbled, unable to stare into the mirror.
I wanted to think. My thoughts were jumbled. I wanted to cry. Nothing came. Nothing but useless tear ducts. I grunted. How did things get so screwed up for me? I haven’t even heard from Gage and I called him weeks ago about Dad’s condition. Some best friends I have. I sure know how to pick ’em.
I climbed onto the softness of the bed, listening to the rain plop down on the roof like a friend on a chair, plinking out various tunes to amuse me. Yesterday was Thanksgiving. It seemed strange to celebrate an old earth holiday about a group of immigrants discovering a new land. Simterra was only discovered a few centuries ago, but the travelers decided to celebrate their own version after settling in their literal new world.
I could almost smell the turkey dinner, the cranberry-chestnut dressing drizzling over hot slices of white and dark meat. Nonna would bring dish after dish to the dining table for our feast. She would always insist on cooking everything herself, despite the kitchen staff. A small smile played at my lips. That was Nonna.I could almost taste the antipasto – the white ceramic plate trimmed with green and black olives, spicy peperoncini, dry sopressata, wild mushrooms, artichoke hearts, and fresh mozzarella. I caught a whiff of the warm polenta with oozing golden honey and always real butter.Sometimes Nonna would let me help her in the kitchen and we would make homemade ravioli pockets and fill them with hot cheeses and roasted red peppers. That was a Thanksgiving tradition for us. No Simtalian celebration was complete with pasta.
I turned on my side and tucked my arm behind my head. The table would be abuzz with conversation and laughter as aunts and uncles and cousins I rarely met gathered around for company during the holidays spent in the Nation. When bisnonna was alive, I recall she would bring the desserts, a delectable cannoli or perhaps zeppole to enjoy with our traditionalist pumpkin pie. And always a wine. No Simtalian event was complete without the Monte Vistan grapes. Thanksgiving and Christmas were one of the only times of year I was allowed a small glass of wine.
Well, now I can drink more, I sighed. I was almost nineteen. Mamma had written that the aunts and uncles and cousins had made the trip to Califorsimia this year. I was missing the weeks long partying stuck her in Mexsimico, hundreds of miles away. I tried not to feel sorry for myself. Dad had made his famous mac and cheese with a good ole Bernish stout and served a turkey pot pie. This was something I remembered from my early childhood Thanksgivings when my parents were still together. Dad was the gourmet chef, not Mamma. She was only allowed to open cans of pungent cranberry sauce.
I laughed at a certain memory, bringing my fingers to my lips. Gage and I making paper turkey hats for the kids, well my younger sisters and his other foster siblings, running around the house with pleasant giggles and paper hats, refusing to wait for the glue to dry fully so that the feathers would stay on. Gage and I would follow behind picking up remnants of glue-stained paper, trying to avoid sticky fingers.
Nonno and Nonna came to our house that year, if I recalled correctly. One of the few times I remembered the whole family happy. Gage spattered me with some glitter and I started a chase of my own until Nonna reminded me a proper young lady does not “run after boys.” That’s when Nonno winked at me and said I should let the boys chase me.
Then Mamma put me on house welcoming duty. I had to shake hands with all the guests that poured into our home and answer all their annoying questions about my age and what I was studying and if I liked living in the Sim Nation and if I was old enough to like boys yet. I always looked older than my years. I would blush and try to divert the conversation by asking polite, proper questions about their family life and work and if they enjoyed the flight to the Nation, if it was comfortable, and then hurry them along so I could greet the next guest. Gage would sit on the stairs and watch me, almost with amusement, and I would get annoyed and stick out my tongue. He would make faces back.
I flopped over on my back, staring through the opening of my four poster bed, wondering about the creamy draped fabric. Who put it there? Why? Who decided four poster beds should have fabric? Why did I care?
I snapped my eyes shut, and lifted my hand as if greeting the family relatives like a good little Simtalian girl. Hello cousin Rico. How are you, cousin Marlena? How do you do, uncle Marcos? The whole thing was obnoxious. Carina was much better at small talk than I was, but since she was younger, she was relegated to corralling the little kids in the den. She would boss everyone around and place them in just the right place on the couches and chairs so she could gain maximum attention during the festivities.
My eyes fluttered open. Carina? I hadn’t spoken to my sisters in a long time. I’m a horrible sister. Cari would have started junior year by now. I wondered if she had been voted class president or if she had stopped studying long enough to go to a school dance. And Andi? I wondered how things were with her and VJ. Mamma still hadn’t met him, last I heard, but things were getting serious between her and Clark. I didn’t know how I felt about it, but he was a good guy and he was kind to Cari and Andi. I had a feeling I might hear about rings and wedding bells soon. I wondered if Clark’s sons had applied to college yet. At least one of them was old enough, right? Would Cari take standardized tests this year? Would Andi bypass a grade and graduate early? It was always a possibility, the little smart cookie.
I buried myself under the covers as the rain continued to batter the windows. My lips parted and I tasted the salt of bitter silent tears. Would I even be home to see them graduate? I had been so hasty to get out of town. I had given up my scholarship and kissed my dreams of a future life and career goodbye. I turned down the opportunity to go to my dream school. For what? To travel the country with Daddy? To find myself? To end up in a sucky relationship with a manipulative boyfriend? Should I call Mamma and go home now?
What am I thinking? I flopped angrily onto my back. I couldn’t leave my father. Not when he was struggling. His therapies with Rosalie seemed to be helping some, but still, was he well enough for me to leave? And what about Casa de la Esperanza? Rosalie and Noel? Brad and Juanita? And the others? Could I just leave them? What about Brendon?
Well, at least he worked in Bay City, not too far from Sunset Valley. If I went home, I could catch the ferry to see him. Wait… I sat straight up and smacked my forehead hard with the palm of my hand. Why would I want to see him? Would he even want to see me? Why was I thinking about this? We were both still in Mexsimco.
“Idiot!” I grunted and smacked my head on the pillow again and pummeled the bed with furious fists. “You don’t know what you’re thinking.”
I wanted to call someone. Anyone. Anything to stop the miserable loneliness I was feeling. I couldn’t call Ayesha. She had betrayed me. I couldn’t call Gage. I didn’t even know if he wanted to hear from me. I couldn’t call Mamma. She would just say I told you so. What time was it anyway? I glanced at the ticking clock on my nightstand. Quarter til three. I turned over and fell into a fitful sleep.
“Gah!” I sat up and threw the clock against the wall with all my might.
I could hear the ticking and tocking cease as it tumbled down the stairs, crashing to the floor below. I was angry. I had only been able to sleep less than an hour. It was now four-thirty.
I heard the gentle baritone voice of my father.
“Are you okay?” he appeared sleepy-eyed at the top of the steps, rubbing his eyes with one hand and holding the broken clock with the other. “I think you…er… lost this.”
I let out a forced laugh. “Yeah, it was getting on my nerves.”
“Oh okay,” he shrugged, and walked over to the bed, fluffing the pillow. “Is something up, kiddo? Did Brendon try anything?”
My mouth dropped open in horror. “Absolutely not!”
“Okay,” he said awkwardly. “Good… I mean, you are that age and all.”
“Dad!” I protested.
“I’m not stupid. I know you were seeing someone back in the Palms.”
I averted my eyes and sighed tiredly.
“Do you want to talk about it?” he probed.
“No!” I snapped. “I’m tired, Daddy. I just want to sleep.”
“Okay,” he shrugged. “I just… well, I’m your Dad… and you can talk to me about stuff like that… boys… and all… this isn’t about that Gage guy, is it?”
“No, Dad!” I snipped, turning my back to him. “Why would you think that?”
“Well, he was into you awhile back if I recall.”
Gawd! How is he so perceptive?
“Or that Davis guy?”
Davis! I didn’t even think about him. Was that so horrible? My serious-ish boyfriend from summer and my serious-ish…. well… something from this fall were over… gone.
“Dad, just let me sleep. I’m sorry I woke you,” I sighed.
In the morning, Dad called up the stairs to tell me he had made pancakes. I wasn’t hungry. In fact, I didn’t wander downstairs until I knew for sure he was out doing his morning therapies. Then I grabbed a hunk of cheese and an apple and returned to the bedroom to hunker down while eating my snack. Since I hadn’t slept well, I drifted in and out of sleep for most of the day. Dad invited me to watch evening Mexsimi soap operas, but I wasn’t really interested or up for the company. I tried reading a novel, but it barely held my interest, the words on the page dancing around and creating nonsensical patterns. Huffing, I tossed the book on the nightstand and continued my musings.
What if Clark and Mamma got married? Would they move? Right now, Mamma was living at Nonna and Nonno’s estate with my sisters. The old house was still in need of repairs after the earthquake damage. Andi had written me a letter last week telling me about all the renovations the town was doing. The Valley would be a completely different place when I came home, she assured me. If I come home, I frowned and flopped over on my side. Did I want to come home? If I did, would Billy still be in the Valley? Would Ayesha still be my friend? Why was I even thinking that? She was the one who hurt me. She should be lucky if I was still her friend.
A day and night passed. Rosalie came and asked me if I had laundry. I didn’t care. Another day and night passed. Brad came to move a piece of furniture for his future sister-in-law. I didn’t care. Noel came to work on the pipes for the water. I didn’t care. Yet another day and night passed. Juanita came and asked if I wanted to go puddle jumping. I snapped at her. I felt bad afterward. Dad came and brought me meals on a tray. I nibbled at the food, but really I didn’t care to eat. I couldn’t even remember what I did with my cell phone, but I didn’t really care. There wasn’t anyone I wanted to talk with. I was alone.
All alone. Just how I liked it.