Huzzah! Gage couldn’t help but be excited. He was about to close up the Octagon House for the night, and head over to the autumn festival at the Cannery. Nalea had agreed to give him dancing lessons. He figured no woman could resist a man who danced, right? The thought had put a spring in his step all evening.
“Have a good night, Mrs. Kaminski,” he called out to the desk attendant.
“Gage,” she replied with a thick accent. “I’ve told you. Call me Rayna. Missus Kaminski makes me sound old and infantile.”
“Okay, Rayna,” he smiled, as his employee was mixing adjectives again. “Have a good night.”
“You too,” she said. “I am going to give my daughter some rest. Nadine very big now…” she puffed out her cheeks and motioned with her hand by her stomach.
“How far along is she?” Gage made pleasant conversation.
“Thirty seven weeks,” Rayna said, her smile wide and toothy.
“Well, please pass along my congratulations again,” he replied, genuinely.
“Thank you. Good night Mr. Gage,” Rayna waved, and stepped out the front door.
After confirming the night security guard had begun his shift, Gage walked around and locked all the doors, and did a final sweep of the building. As he was inspecting a crooked Simchel Angelo painting on the second floor, he thought he heard crying.
Gage tiptoed up the stairs, uncertain as to what to expect. He thought about grabbing something heavy to defend himself, but decided against it. What would he wield? A hundred-year-old sculpture? That would surely get him fired. He thought about calling out for the night security officer, but he didn’t want to tip off the person on the upper floor.
As he neared the top of the steps, Gage saw the woman with long dark hair, doubling over with soft sniffling. He wondered who she was and what she was doing at the Octagon House. She seemed to be fixated on a painting of a Simtalian town with Simspanian influence, creamy yellow buildings and bright orange roofs. The woman reached out and touched the frame, a cry escaping her lips. Evidently, it was a private moment. Gage turned to walk down the stairs, but on the landing, he thought better of it. So as not to scare the woman, Gage decided to walk up the other flight of stairs so he would be facing her when he entered the room.
“Who’s there?” she called out, self-consciously lowering her head and bringing her arms back to her chest as she jumped back a few steps in shock.
“Hello,” Gage said, uncertain of how to introduce himself. “I’m working here, and we’re closed now, ma’am, didn’t you hear the announcement over the PA system?”
The woman let out a shuddering sob. Gage awkwardly approached, wishing he had a tissue in his pocket to offer the lady.
“Um… are you okay?”
“You called me ma’am,” she said tearfully, looking up at him with wild eyes.
“Um… yes…” he squeaked.
“I haven’t… I’m sorry…” she wiped her eyes on her sleeve. “I haven’t…oh I’m sorry…” she drew a handkerchief from her pocket and blew her nose. “This is terribly embarrassing…” she said into the fabric, her voice muffled and odd. “I haven’t been called ma’am in a long time.”
Gage frowned. “You couldn’t be a day over twenty-five.”
Her face broke into a surprised smile.
“Oh thank you,” she purred. “Actually I’m only twenty-two.”
“Then…” he furrowed his brow. “I’m confused.”
“I’m sorry… I should introduce myself,” the woman said, straightening her blouse and then offering her hand. “I’m Anita Errare. I was the wife of the late Philippe Errare.”
Gage gasped. “The Poràdàn painter from Simspania?” he rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Yes, I remember his work very well. We have many of his paintings here. He was quite famous during his lifetime. I was sorry to hear of his passing this last year. You were his wife?” his eyes grew wide. “Sorry, that was insensitive of me.”
“That’s okay,” Anita sniffled, and swiped at her eyes once more. “I am glad to see he still has his admirers. He took to gambling late in life, and lost favor in the artistic community.”
“But his work!” Gage interrupted. “…is incredible. He had such innovative angles and brush strokes. I heard he would climb up on top of the tile roofs of Empordà to capture the last light of the sun every night for a year so he could capture this village…” he motioned to the painting. “…perfectly…” he paused, flushing. “I’m sorry. I probably don’t need to be telling you this. You knew the man intimately.” He clamped a hand over his mouth. “Oh llamas!”
Anita laughed. “It’s all right.” She reached out and touched his wrist. “I’m glad he has someone devoted to his art.”
“I’m so sorry for your loss,” Gage said, clearly his throat. “Did you live in Simspania for long?” He flushed again. “Oh I’m sorry if I’m prying.”
“No,” she shook her head. “You’re not. My Phil…er… Philippe and I met when I was an art student traveling in Champs les Sims. I was eighteen, and my parents were trying to give me the world. I had a trip to Championne with my class and they let me go. I ran away from my teachers, and Philippe and I were married.”
“Wow… that’s um… intense…” Gage said, his jaw going slack. “And that age difference… didn’t bother you?”
“You are quite bold, Mister…? I don’t even know your name,” she sighed.
“Oh, Gage Briody,” he pointed to his badge.
“Mister Gage Briody…” she repeated, and her eyes widened. “…Are you by chance related to Sam Bagley, the younger one, um… junior?”
“Sí,” he replied, proudly with a smirk.
Anita clasped her hands together happily, and began speaking in rapid fire Simspani. Gage shook his head and waved his hands.
“I’m sorry… slow down… I don’t know that much Simspani. I speak mainly Mexsimican and I’m rusty at best.”
“Oh!” she stopped mid-sentence, almost as if startled. “Forgive me. I’m just excited. You are related to Sam?”
“Yeah, he’s my cousin.”
“He mentioned you a few times.”
“I used to live in Riverview. Perhaps you know the name?” she tilted her head. “Lobos?”
Gage thought for a moment and replied. “Oh yeah, your dad, Angel Lobos plays for the Riverview Rhinos, right? I’m more into baseball than hockey but Sam and his girlfriend and I all went to a game a few weeks ago. Both of them are really into sports.”
“Is he dating Ruby Broke now? I heard it from my mom,” Anita said.
“Yeah, they’ve been together since early summer,” Gage remarked.
“Small world,” Anita smiled. “Well, I should leave since you’re closed.”
“No problem,” Gage flashed a smile. “Anything for a pretty lady.”
A hint of pink breached Anita’s cheeks. “Thank you…” she clicked down the stairs. “Good night, Gage Briody.”
After she left, Gage found himself wondering about Anita, and wishing he had ran after her and helped her out of the building.The night guard had most likely done that. Still, he felt like less than a gentleman for letting her wander out on her own. Maybe he should’ve asked if she had reliable transportation home.
“What’s wrong with you, dork?” he berated himself.
With a few clicks on his phone, he found an article about Philippe Errare, her late husband. Born in Empordà, Errare, a child prodigy, traveled the world for his art at the young age of eight. He studied under some of the world’s finest artists at the time, and attended the famous LeFromage Art School. He continued to travel the world, and returned to teach in Championne for nearly two decades, before returning to his homeland of Simspania. Gage browsed the Web for more information on Anita. It was as if the press were careful not to write about her. He found one picture, a wedding photograph at Palacio Municipal. The article merely announced their wedding, and said very little about Anita, other than she was a Mexsimi girl he had met during his travels. He did find information about Philippe and his previous wives, Anita being his fourth, and each wife was consistently younger than the one previously. His phone rang interrupting his research.
“Gage, my man, how’s it going?”
It was the voice of his boss, Billy Caspian.
“Billy, hey what’s up?” he asked casually.
“Nellie Spenster just posted a status on FaceMash about Anita Errare being in town,” Billy explained. “Did you know that?”
Gage made a face. He disliked the Spenster sisters for all their gossiping and whispering behind people’s backs. Why would Billy be following those ladies on social media?
“Actually, she was just here,” he replied aloofly.
“What? Man! Why didn’t you tell me?” Billy exclaimed.
“Um, maybe because she literally just left,” Gage said.
“She was at the Octagon House! Holy cowplants!” Billy was freaking out.
“Calm down, Billy,” Gage urged, feeling annoyed. “I’m late getting out of here tonight.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Billy said. “I’m doubling your salary anyway. I want you to wine and dine Ms. Errare.”
“Wait… what?” Gage exclaimed. “You’re doubling my salary?”
“Didn’t you hear me, Gage? Anita Errare is huge in the art industry, and rumor has it, she’s pretty loaded… well, that is if she ever unloads the paintings she inherited from her late husband. The man was like a god in the art world.”
“Um… I don’t know how I feel preying on a widow…”
“Seriously, dude, most of my patronesses have been widows, and once you’ve done it once, it’s a lot easier.”
“And it’s not preying… it’s helping them with the burden of their glorious wealth.”
“How is that any different? Or better?” Gage protested.
“Look, women like Anita...” Billy explained. “...they want to give to the arts. They just need to find a reliable outlet to give back generously to the community. Didn’t she grow up in Riverview?”
“I think so…” Gage shrugged.
“Well, even better. She traveled abroad, married a rich and famous artist, and has come back to roost. She’ll want to give to her hometown for sure as good publicity,” Billy said, excitedly.
“I don’t know. She didn’t seem to be looking for publicity or anything tonight,” Gage replied. “And she didn’t say anything about patronizing us or donating large sums of money or art to Octagon House. I think you’re getting ahead of yourself.”
“Hence why I want you to wine and dine her, Gage, you’re the ticket. You’re like around her age and you like art and you’re talented...” Billy said.
“Wait, you think I’m talented?” Gage interrupted, puffing his chest out with pride.
“And she’ll like you. Trust me. She’ll want to give to the Octagon House, and if the rumors are true, maybe she’ll even donate forbidden paintings. Supposedly Philippe left her his entire art collection much to the upset of his family. I don’t think they liked her,” Billy prattled on.
“You think?” Gage’s voice jumped an octave. “The thirty year age difference give it away?”
“Dude, you’re getting hung up on the specifics. Let’s not worry about that,” Billy said, optimistically. “The point is… you’re getting a raise. So yay! Go out and celebrate tonight. Go find a lady friend and party it up, and tomorrow start your plans for bringing Anita into the fold.”
Billy hung up before Gage could protest. Find a lady friend, he gritted his teeth as he stomped down the stairs. As if it were that easy. He sighed, slipping out the front door after waving goodbye to the night guard. Oh llamas! Nalea!
Glancing at his watch, he realized he was too late. The festival was long over as it was approaching midnight. He cursed under his breath and kicked a stone in his pathway. Well, at least I’m getting a raise.
Stopping at EverFresh Delights, he snagged a bottle of box wine, a loaf of crusty bread, and a bowl of soup from the deli. While he was standing in line, he noticed the tabloid magazines. Livin’ Large had a picture of Anita Errare walking out of the bus station, half-covering her face with her purse. The title read Heiress Hops the Pond Home. He squinted his eyes to read the caption Inside the Short Marriage of Philippe and Anita Errare: Painting the Perfect Disaster.
He scowled. Do they have nothing better to do these magazines? With that, he walked back to the alcohol section, put the wine box back on the shelf, and grabbed a bottle of champagne costing a fourth of his paycheck. He should be celebrating. He got a raise, after all.
“I’m sorry for this embarrassing behavior of mine.”
It was Friday evening. Gage was, again, supposed to go to meet Nalea at the Cannery for dance lessons, and he knew he was going to be late. Last time his excuse of needing to work late worked out, but this time? He wasn’t so sure. Still, Anita Errare had returned to the Octagon House unannounced and he had discovered her right before closing bawling her eyes out in front of another of her late husband’s painting. The young widow’s coffee-colored eyes were so sad as she stared up at him almost pleadingly for another five minutes. Gage didn’t have the heart to resist.
“No, don’t worry about it. You’re obviously still grieving,” Gage replied.
He could’ve kicked himself. Really? That’s the best you can say?
“Um… I know what that’s like…” he quickly added.
“Wife?” she arched a brow.
“Mom… well, foster mom… well, adopted mom… I mean, basically my mother since I was thirteen. She…um… passed away in Simuly,” he explained awkwardly.
“Oh I’m sorry,” Anita said.
“It’s not your fault,” he shrugged, shoving his hands in his pockets.
“No I am… uh…” Anita fumbled for words, and after a moment of silence, she reached out and put her arms around him.
Gage stayed in her embrace, surprised but comforted by her arms encircling his own. For once someone didn’t try to talk at him when he mentioned Jennifer. He leaned into Anita as she pulled him tighter, as if squeezing assurance into his veins directly. He could smell her freshly shampooed hair, and found himself nearly nuzzling in her black tresses. The scent reminded him of his foster mom’s rosemary lavender bar soap. For the first time since Jennifer’s death, he could remember what she smelled like, and how she felt when she hugged him. It was comforting. It wasn’t until he pulled back from Anita’s hug that he realized tears had formed in his eye corners.
“I apologize if that was too forward,” Anita said, softly. “I just…” she trailed off, her dark lashes fluttering toward the floor. “…I felt as if the universe was saying to embrace you.”
“Thank you,” he croaked, barely able to say the words.
“When I lost Philippe, people spoke to me, but it wasn’t what I needed. Their words were platitudes at best,” Anita explained.
“Exactly,” he cleared his throat.
Finally someone who understood.
“Can I ask you a question?”
“Does the aching go away?”
Anita appeared to be thinking deeply. Silence stretched between them, and he felt as though he had known her his entire life.
“With time,” she began slowly. “It diminishes. It’s been over a year, but I still feel…” Anita pressed her fingers to her heart.
“I know,” he said quietly.
“But…” she took his hand and laid it over her own. “My heart still beats. I go on beat by beat, minute by minute, and in time, the pain of loss softens and the heart finds its wings again.”
She let go of his hand, but her own still lingered on his arm. He found he didn’t mind.
“That’s beautiful,” he said, swallowing hard.
“You want to tell me about this painting?” he asked, turning away as he didn’t want to inappropriately stare. “You would know more than I do. I’ve always wondered if I am imagining things or if he painted this from on the ground.”
“You’re not,” Anita confirmed. “Philippe did lie on the ground and painted up. Good eye. You caught the angle.”
He smiled, proud of himself. Maybe he was better at art than he thought, or at least better at identification and observation.
Anita swooned, lifting her hand to her head. Gage whipped around, catching her with his free arm, feeling the instant strain at the sudden surprise catch. He made a mental note to start working out with Sam again. Muscles impress the ladies. From the look on Anita’s face, he could tell she was impressed. A hint of red bled into her cheeks.
“Oh!” she said, startled. “I’m so sorry. I should be more careful.”
“Are you okay?” he inquired.
“I’m just hungry I guess,” she remarked, staring intently at his face.
“What?” he asked as he noticed the puzzling lines between her eyebrows.
“Your eyes…” she gasped, and her face softened into a smile. “They are so blue.”
“Thank you, I think,” he replied, lifting her up onto her feet. “I think we should get some food into you. It’ll help with the lightheadedness.”
Twenty minutes later they were seated at a picnic bench at Hogan’s Deep Fried Diner. Anita had chosen the place, and Gage didn’t protest, though he quietly paid. Part of his conscience nagged him. Was he paying because Billy said so or was he paying out of some kind of gentlemanly obligation? While they waited for their food, Gage decided there wasn’t any reason why it couldn’t be both, though he was sure this wasn’t what his boss had in mind when he said “wine and dine.”
“I love this place,” Anita said, taking a deep breath of fresh air as they had found their seats.
“What? Hogan’s?” Gage wrinkled his nose. “There’s much better places to eat in town, but this is the only place open this late.”
“No, Riverview,” she sighed, almost happily, as she made a sign of the cross and silently prayed over her food.
He shrugged, picking up his value-sized hamburger. “You know we could’ve ordered anything you wanted. It didn’t have to be tiny.”
“My blood sugar needs a boost, but I don’t need a lot,” Anita remarked. “Besides I missed fast food. We didn’t have it in Empordà.”
Gage released a deep laugh. “You missed fast food? Really?” he teased. “I’d think you’d have all sorts of delicious food at your fingertips in Simspania, especially with your… er…” he stopped, realizing what he was about to say was inappropriate, and wiped his mouth with a napkin. “…you know… um… Simspanian food must be good.”
“You can say it,” Anita said, sweeping her eyes downward and folding her hands in her lap.
Gage cleared his throat, feeling uncomfortable, and shoved another bite of food into his mouth.
“Can I trust you, Gage?”
He blinked rapidly. He wasn’t sure he had ever been asked that question before. It was implied. He was a foster kid, the bastard son of a fairly well known man in town, a man who had long since been deceased, but there were still rumors about him. Bopping around from home to home, he learned that he wasn’t trustworthy because of where he came from not because of his character. It was a hard question for him to swallow.
“You have one of the kindest faces I have ever seen, Gage Briody,” Anita said, softly.
He nearly choked on his hamburger. That wasn’t what he had been expecting.
“So I believe I can trust you and tell you things that will not make it into the papers,” she glanced about rapidly. “And it looks like the paparazzi did not follow me here.”
“Ha!” he snorted a laugh. “They’re all in bed. At least the ones from the Riverview Register. All the employees are over the age of fifty-five. This is…” he glanced at his watch. “…half past three. It’s after their bedtime… or before their wake time.”
“News never sleeps,” Anita said. “But I think we’re relatively safe here.” She leaned forward intentionally. “I know what the tabloids say and the magazines and the newspapers and they all suspect I married Philippe for his money and he married me for the… uh… well…” she flushed and lowered her voice to a whisper. “…the woo…hoo…”
Gage resisted the urge to smile.
“But that simply was not the case,” Anita corrected, and looked up at the stars. “Was it love? I don’t know, but I cared deeply for him, and I didn’t think once about the money. Oh I knew Philippe had money. He showered me in Simos when he first met me and after we were married. He was a good man.”
Gage frowned. He heard a trigger word. Anytime he heard that word, that phrase, he knew about the cover-up, what it really meant. Anytime someone needed to justify a person being good he was suspicious. He wondered as he cocked his head. He was curious, but his conscience was prodding him. He reached across the table, and laid his hand on Anita’s.
“Anita, you don’t need to tell me if you don’t want to.”
Her eyes filled with tears, like too much water in a coffee pitcher. “That’s why I am telling you, Gage. I know I barely know you, but I know I can trust you. Somehow I know. Right here.” She placed her hand over her heart. “Right now.”
“I know, thank you,” he said. “You give me more credit than I deserve. But I think for tonight, you should just let it rest. You can tell me when you and I have gotten to know each other better.”
Tears splashed Anita’s cheeks and she wiped her face with a napkin.
“Thank you, Gage. Will you walk me home?” she requested.
They walked down the road, Gage pointing out a constellation or two, and Anita humming about the fresh air in Riverview. The sun began to rise ever so slightly, still hidden behind the rolling green hills, though the sky turned a lovely shade of lilac. After cutting across a field, they approached a pleasant two-story home with a detached barn, and in the driveway sat a very expensive car.
“Is that?” Gage asked, excitedly, his eyes growing wide.
“A Margaret Vaguester?” Anita affirmed. “Yes. A gift from Philippe’s uncle. I think he thinks he can buy me off and keep me out of the country. I am an embarrassment to them.”
Gage felt bad for drooling over the car.
“Your husband’s uncle delivered you a car?” he asked, trying to sidestep the awkwardness.
“Heavens no! Not directly. He bought the car from a man here in town. Arranged the whole thing on the Net. Luke McDermott, I think. And your cousin… come to think of it… Rhoda delivered the car the other day,” Anita explained.
“Oh,” was all he could think to say, staring at the shiny chrome wheels.
They walked up onto the porch.
“Would you like to come in?” she asked, a sweet lilt in her voice. “I could make coffee. Do you like cortado?”
“Oh I don’t know what it is but you make it sound delicious,” he replied with a smile.
She tilted her head coyly. “It’s espresso with a splash of steamed milk.”
“It’s so late, or early, I should say… er…” Gage rubbed the back of his head. “I shouldn’t drink coffee since I should try and get some sleep.”
“You don’t want to come in?” she sounded, almost disappointed, reaching for his hands and running her fingers lightly over his skin. “I don’t have to make coffee. We could just talk…” she glanced down shyly. “…or not talk.”
Gage could almost his blood pumping through his veins. She was a very attractive woman, and she was doing her best to entice him through a subtle invitation. He almost wished he could stay, and wondered about the reason for his hesitancy. Something about his last encounter with a woman made him feel less than adequate as a man. Something about his conversation with Constance made him think twice about jumping at the opportunity to be with another woman. Her words still rang in his head – Sex won’t fill the things that are missing.
“Anita…” he began, an awkward mix of hesitancy and eagerness in his voice.
“I don’t offer this to every man,” Anita was saying as she continued to rub his hands. “I haven’t been with anyone since Philippe.”
He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Is this the whole irresistible wish I made? Gage swallowed hard. Then why do I feel so guilty?
“Anita, I would love to…”
“I want to be that man tonight,” he said, the words sounding strange as they exited his lips. “But I think you deserve a better man than me.”
What the hell? Where did that come from?
“Gage?” she lifted his chin. “That line… what you just said… is why there is no better man.”
His hands trembled. The tension was palpable, and he could feel an electricity in the air, drawing her to him. He couldn’t believe what he had just heard. Anita was full of surprises.
“I will respect your wishes,” she said, softly.
So close! I could’ve kissed her, he thought, dismayed. That’s what you wanted, he argued internally.
It’ll be better this way, he convinced himself.
“Call me?” she tilted her head. “We’ll do cortado another time.”
“Thank you, Anita,” he said, backing down the steps.
“And I want to hear about the Octagon House where you work. Perhaps we could work together. Some of Philippe’s paintings… maybe… you could help me restore them?”
Exactly what Billy wanted! Maybe they would get their patroness of the arts.
“Sure thing,” he waved as he cut across the street and into the field. “Good night, Anita.”
But what do I want?
Author Note: Okay, ridiculously long chapter later… enter Anita Errare, formerly Lobos, and another chapter of Gage’s life. The conversation with Billy is something I’ve been planning for a long time, but I wasn’t planning on the woman being Anita. But when she popped up in game… oh how I love when the Sims take me in a new direction! It’s an exciting challenge.
Simchel Angelo, as I’ve previously mentioned, is a play on Michelangelo. Philippe Errare is an entirely fictional artist I created for the game back story. I left some of his history and background muddled because I want to reveal some things over time, but I think you get the picture that there is more to Anita and Philippe’s marriage and life than meets the eye. In case anyone is interested, Errare is Latin for “to err.” Just a fun little factoid.
Empordà is a world created by Nilxis Designs, and I decided it was in Simspania (Spain). Like Spain and Mexico, there are differences in dialect, language, and culture between Simspania and Mexsimco. A Poràdàn is a person from Empordà.
In case anyone has a super good memory and remembers Anita is the twin sister of Carlotta Lobos and that Carlotta was a love interest of Sam’s and that she was supposedly younger than Sam, then I made a change for the purpose of the story, and because I couldn’t resist writing Anita in. So Anita and Carlotta are intended to be older than Sam (and Gage, subsequently) now and are both 22. When Carlotta left home previously to go to Simultan, she was 18 and Sam was 16 (now in flashback). Anita also left home around the same time and headed to Sim Union for art studies, where she met and married Philippe (who was 48 at the time).
Angel Lobos, Anita’s father, is a minor league hockey player as I mentioned above for the Riverview Rhinos.
I hope you enjoyed and managed to get through the ridiculous word count after I got side-tracked with Anita, but I am happy with the outcome and hope you are too.
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