1.23 Read Like a Book (FRWL)

He was dreaming… sweet dreams. Of a woman with red hair. Of a woman who loved him. Of a woman who made him feel good. Of a woman he always wanted…

…Kass.

“Hmm?” Cerise stirred beside him beneath snakeskin sheets.

“Kass,” he mumbled.

She felt good against his back, the softness of her white tee brushing his own. He could feel her exposed midriff, her skin cool and smooth next to his own back. He could feel her arms encircling him, and the scent of her cinnamon perfume like a spiced tea on a wintery morning. He could stir his fingers in the steamy liquid drops of her hair.

“Who’s Kass?” she asked, releasing her arms around his chest.

“I love you, Kass,” Gage murmured. “I…want…you…” her mumbled beneath the sheet. “Kass?”

“Whoa!” Cerise jerked back from his side, yanking the covers in the process.

Startled, he sat up, rubbing his eyes. “Good morning,” he said, tilting his head to the side and offering a sleepy half-smile.

“Who’s this Kass person?” Cerise asked sharply, her makeup still perfect from the night before.

“Um…” he rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. “I…”

“Are you into dudes?” she inquired, eyeing him closely.

“What?” he gasped. “No… Kass is a woman’s name. You didn’t know that?”

Not helping your case here, buddy. 

“You said you loved her,” Cerise repeated, sounding almost hurt.

He narrowed his eyes. “I said that?”

“Yeah,” she folded her arms across her chest, her braless breasts bouncing in the process.

Gage cleared his throat. “Uh….”

Cerise glared, waiting for an explanation.

“You love her. You want her. Present tense, Gage!” Cerise snipped.

“I…but Kass isn’t here, you are,” he insisted.

“Are you married?” she grunted.

“No, no, it’s nothing like that,” he waved his hands in protest.

“You’re engaged?” she guessed. “In a committed relationship? You don’t want to leave her. You were just looking for a one-night stand. She doesn’t please you anymore. You come looking for vamps like me. Cuz we’re all what… sex maniacs? Yada, yada, yada,” Cerise threw her hands up in the air. “Look, I’ve heard it all before.”

“But I’m not… I mean… Kass… that woman… she doesn’t mean anything to me,” he lied, feeling like he was rapidly losing ground and favor.

“Look it was fun and games, but I think you need to leave,” Cerise sighed dramatically. “I need my afternoon plasma coffee and you should go home… to that… Kass… whatever…” She shoved him off the bed, flouncing to the kitchen.

“But it’s not like that!” Gage exclaimed. “Honestly.”

Cerise pushed the button and her coffee machine roared to life. The liquid began brewing. Gage braced himself against the night stand, gritting his teeth as he stood up.

“Look, Cerise, I like you… and what we had last night was hot…” he began.

She clucked in a hen-like fashion, and wrapped her hands around her warm beverage, flicking the liquid with her tongue. Walking over to Gage, she wrapped her hand tightly around his forearm and pulled him with surprising force over to the elevator.

“Look,” she pushed him in. “I wasn’t looking for a wedding ring or a relationship or nothing. It was business. Nothing more. What happens in a vampire house stays in a vampire house.”

He wondered if she meant her apartment or the idea of vampire houses in general.

“It’s nothing personal. Besides my mistress will be along shortly for an inspection and I can’t have you here,” she remarked.

His eyes widened. She smirked, taking another sip of her coffee.

“It’s not like that,” she said, peeking over the edge of her coffee cup. “My mistress is my business employer and house manager…” she leaned into the elevator and pinched his cheek. “Ahh… but you thought… well, you dirty little Bene.”

Gage chuckled awkwardly and shifted his weight to one foot as he pressed the down button.

“Next time bring your friend or whatever… Kass…” Cerise called after him.

Gage couldn’t stop gaping until he reached the ground floor and wandered outside. What the hell? It was then he realized that he left his pants, shirt, jacket, and boots in Cerise’s apartment. He planned to go back up for them until he saw a long black limousine with red lights pull up next to the curb and a woman with greyish skin and a long black flowing dress with tails step out. He surmised that must be Cerise’s mistress. The woman darted her eyes, piercing him with a dark gaze as she smiled, revealing her sharp incisors. He gulped and took a step back. Probably best to get his clothes another time. 

Gage wandered in the low-lying fog for awhile. A few taxis passed by but wouldn’t pick him up due to his unusual attire.  He got more than one cat call from a woman on the street or passing car. Thankfully he had the sense to grab his phone before leaving Cerise’s, but now he was kicking himself for leaving his wallet and keys. The vampiress might still get in trouble, and he didn’t even have her phone number to call and pick up the items later.

He tried ringing his cousin, but Sam didn’t answer. Gage remembered he was out for the day at classes and then driving Ruby back to Riverview. He thought about calling Northwestern University but how would he explain the need to interrupt Sam in his classes. He somehow managed to get past the doorman at Sam’s apartment, but no one was home and he didn’t feel like explaining to anyone why he needed let in. He thought about calling his aunt or other cousin, but both of them would surely laugh at him, and he wasn’t ready for that.

I’m an idiot! 

The sun was starting to go down, and he was feeling the evening chill set in. He was getting plenty of stares from passerbyers.

“What? I’m decent,” he protested.

…except I’m without shoes, pants, a wallet, and keys… he gritted his teeth.

Could be worse, he reminded himself.

There was one time when a foster parent kicked him out with nothing but his undies. A homeless guy in the park had taken pity on him and given him his only spare pair of pants and a hoodie. Still he had wandered for hours without shoes in the cold, wet, miserable rain. Gage eyed the sky. At least it didn’t look like precipitation was coming, but the fog was nipping at his skin. He wondered if he should wander back to Cerise’s place, but he felt like a fool. He didn’t really want to see her again after she kicked him out in a humiliating fashion.

He wandered past a hot dog stand, and his stomach gurgled. The scent of fried meat almost made him feel nauseous, he was so hungry.

He wandered past the police station, and was tempted to file a “fake” report, but he really didn’t want to get in trouble with the fine men and women in blue.

He wandered past the hospital, and thought about checking himself in for the night. He could claim stomach pains or something, which wasn’t far from the truth.

He wandered past the public library, and thought about walking inside to get warm for a few minutes. They advertised open until 10p.m.

Then he had an idea. He picked up his phone and punched in a number.

Forty minutes later, Constance Shelley picked him up in her antique car. He was waiting at a subway station. Grateful he didn’t have to wait a minute longer, he slipped into her vehicle.

“I’m sure glad I remembered you’re in town for the Friends of the Library convention,” he remarked.

She handed him a bag of clothes, a hoodie, a pair of military fatigue paints, socks, and boots.

“What on Simterra were you doing wandering Devil’s Port dressed like that?” she asked.

Gage pulled the pants up on over his legs.

“I had to come up with the weirdest excuse to get into the building. I told the doorman I was delivering books from the library and he asked me if we made house calls now so I hope your cousin likes books about eighteenth century antiques because that’s all I had in my car,” she remarked, and he couldn’t tell if she was amused or annoyed.

“Thank you,” he said, yanking the hoodie over his head.

“And I had a hell of a time explaining to Ruby why I was at the apartment in the first place,” Constance wrinkled her nose as she put the car in drive. “She apparently thinks I’m someone named Kass.”

Gage made a face at the sound of that name. He was annoyed his thinking-aloud had gotten him into trouble today already. He didn’t want Kass to ruin things for him again.

“Thank you for coming to get me,” he rubbed the back of his head, already feeling warmed by the heater of Constance’s car.

He knew he was deflecting, but he didn’t care.

“I couldn’t find socks so I had to buy you some. You can pay me back,” she said.

“You didn’t ask her?” he raised an eyebrow.

“Look, I don’t know why you didn’t just go back and ask Ruby directly,” Constance said, pulling away from the curb. “Her name is Ruby, right?”

“Yeah, Ruby,” he shrugged. “Sam’s girlfriend.”

“I see,” Constance said. “And Kass is… your girlfriend?”

I wish. Kass wouldn’t kick him out of the apartment without his clothes in the morning, hungover and hurting. Gage crossed his arms over his chest, drawing his knees closer to his body as he nursed his ribs. He hoped Constance hadn’t seen the love bites on his neck or the scratch marks on his legs and arms.

“A friend,” he said, staring off out the window. “Nothing more.”

“Uh huh,” Constance replied as if she didn’t believe him. “And the woman who has your clothes?” she pulled up to a stop light, and glanced over in his direction. “It is a woman, right?”

I might as well admit it, he nodded affirmatively.

“I take it Lè and Heather didn’t work out,” she said.

He expected judgment in her tone, but he heard none. Only a statement. He cleared his throat.

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“You try and act all mysterious, Gage Briody, but I know you,” she replied, boldly.

He swallowed hard.

“You are chasing after women trying to find the dream…” she laid a hand on his knee as she maneuvered through traffic with her other hand on the wheel. “…that dream childhood you and I didn’t have. Trust me. I know. I lived it. But hopping in and out of bed with someone isn’t going to fix the fact that you had a shitty childhood and it isn’t going to get you that home and family you want and deserve.”

Gage’s jaw dropped open. It was as if Constance had peered into his soul and knew his innermost thoughts and feelings. How did she do that? He wasn’t sure if he should be scared, offended, angry, or impressed. He glanced over at her, watching her face for a hint of expression – something so he could interject something equally as worthy, but he couldn’t see anything. Nothing except a few more crease lines around her eyes than a twenty-something woman should have. Constance had just read him like a book.

“Listen, I’m starving, and I don’t exactly want to talk about my love life,” he said, curtly, deflecting once more. “And I’d buy you dinner as a thanks, but I don’t have my wallet, and that’s why I couldn’t get home in the first place.”

 

Constance immediately made a U-turn.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“I know a good little diner on the way out of town. I didn’t know where I was taking you, but I’m guessing you don’t want to go back to your cousin’s?” Constance said, more as a statement than a question.

He nodded.

“You said you were hungry,” she said, her voice climbing a few notches in pitch after he gave her a weird look.

“Yes, but I have no money,” he said, feeling incredibly stupid.

“Don’t worry about it,” she patted his knee in a sisterly way. “If I was running around in the streets of Simcago without my clothes and my wallet because some…” she glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. “…guy kept all my stuff, well, then I’ll know who to call next time.”

His face relaxed into a smile.

“Not sayin’ I’d ever be caught dead doing that,” she clarified.

“Of course,” he tried to keep his smile from expanding as she was glaring at him threateningly.

“And after we eat, I want to know all about this mystery woman,” she added.

So close! 

“And Kass.”

Gage’s smile turned to a frown.

“And then,” she declared resolutely. “We will go get your clothes.”

He couldn’t help but laugh in surprise.

“What witch keeps a man’s clothes?”  Constance shook her head, disapprovingly.

“Actually…” he tried not to smile, but the whole situation was amusing. “She’s a vampire.”

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Next Chapter: 1.24 All Wishes Final