Moving in together was a big step. Gage knew this truth deep within his heart. He still felt the sting of Nalea’s panicked “I can’t believe we did that” face in the morning when he returned so hopeful with breakfast. He still felt the sting of Cerise’s casual “it was business…nothing more” push into the elevator. He still felt the sting of Heather’s hesitant “I think we need to cool off” defensive arm gestures. He still felt the sting of Constance’s chilly “I don’t want to date you” insistence. He still felt the sting of Lé‘s lackluster”I can’t marry you,” statement like a powerful pinprick in his foot everywhere he walked. It all stemmed from the sting of Natalya’s nonchalant “I’m not really into you” comment the morning after, but if he was honest with himself, the real culprit was Kass.
Gage grit his teeth, and dropped an arm lazily behind his head. If anyone knew rejection, he did. Kass didn’t want him. He had always been there for her no matter what, until the last four months. He had always assumed they would always be together, and naturally would grow to love one another. Gage turned over on his side, careful to avoid disturbing the still asleep Anita. True love is in fairy tales, he sighed internally.
He was holding out for a princess in a locked tower, someone who had already given her heart to another, and wasn’t ever going to come down for him. No matter how hard he tried to climb the walls, he always found himself starting over again at the bottom, unable to scale the straight stone face. He might as well give up.
But isn’t that what I was doing? he puzzled. He had slept with so many women now, some of whom could’ve had his heart. Some of whom he wanted to give his heart, but just couldn’t, and they wouldn’t, and it shouldn’t… his train of thought was interrupted by the sound of an actual train horn in the distance. Gage slipped his legs over the side of the bed and stood up with a yawn and a stretch. He glanced back at the woman whose bed he had currently be sharing.
“Anita,” he breathed.
She was different. Something about this woman was different. Was it because she really wanted to be with him? He leaned over and softly pushed the hair from her eyes. Was it because she had been wounded and rejected too? That she understood? Anita gave a slight mumbled sigh, and he kissed her forehead. Was it because their chemistry was unbelievable? Anita was a master of give-and-take, something he had never found in a woman before. She knew what she wanted, and she gave of herself so freely, and earnestly. He smiled. She was beautiful, even while sleeping.
He would let her sleep.
It was still early. Gage dressed and wandered into the hallway. The frosted windows let in the early morning light, the sun rising lazily above the rolling snow-covered hills of Riverview. He rubbed his hands, chilled as he stood near the glass, tempted to reach out and touch the snow. He had never seen snow quite this beautiful before. Perhaps it was because of his newfound love and happiness, but everything seemed magical.
He approached his canvas, a sketch of fairy woman, completed entirely in yellow ink. He wasn’t sure why he drew it, but he felt something inside his soul begging to draw this figure. It had been a long time since he sketched. The last time he remembered was for Christmas last year when Jennifer asked him to make her a sketch of the ocean. He hadn’t done it justice. For some reason, the memory triggered a surge in his chest, a pain he had long since buried deep in the caverns of his heart. I should’ve made the effort. I should’ve done it justice, Mom.
The thought of Jennifer as his mother caused the dam to break loose, and the flood of tears he had been hiding for months emerged. He wept silently, standing in the middle of his new art studio, feeling the incredible emptiness and brokenness of a man who lost the only real mother he had ever known. The only real woman I have ever loved… he swiped at the tears, almost ashamed to catch himself so deeply emotional. …except Kass.
He balled his fists. Why do I love Kass so much? Why do I love a woman who won’t love me back? Why do I love a woman who is a thousand miles away and there is a beautiful sleeping angel in the next room? One who cares about me? One who wants me?
Anita had asked him to move in after their first night together. He had been overwhelmed by the thought, leaving abruptly in the morning. He stayed away for most of the day, ignoring her phone calls and letting them go to voicemail. Her last voicemail was what had plucked the right string of his violin.
Gage, I know you might not want to move this fast, and I would hate to pressure you so I’ll stop calling after this message. I just want you to know that my life is too short not to go for what I want, and I don’t want to wait another moment to start my life with you.
Start my life with you? Gage touched his fingers to his lips, thinking about her deep kisses. Anita was a lovely woman, a woman who had been hurt by a man she cared deeply about, but also a woman who risked pain to say what she was really thinking, something Kass had never been able to do with him. He would be a fool for throwing away this opportunity to be with someone like Anita.
He had returned to her doorstep the next morning with his suitcase and a backpack jammed full of all the things he owned and cared about, half expecting her to turn him away, and to tell him it was too late. Instead, she ran out the front door and raced to him, throwing her arms around his neck and tearfully kissing him. I knew you’d come.
Over dinner that night, she laid out all of her cards.
“I don’t have rules, Gage. Not really. I assume if you’re with me, you’re with me, and if you’re not, we’ll move on, and you can live in the guest house in the barn if you need to. I won’t kick you out if you don’t want to be with me, and you want to be with someone else. But I cannot… cannot… tolerate cheating. I cannot and will not. You just be honest with me and we’re okay.”
“You live here and we’re together, and that’s all that matters. I’ll have a key made for you, and there’s a studio set up for you in the upstairs hallway. I only ask that you use it to make your beautiful art. It’s a passion of yours to draw and to paint and it’s a passion of mine…” she had reached out and laid her hand on his own. “…to invest in really great artists.”
“You think I’m really great?”
“Of course, I do. Don’t discount your talent, Gage.”
He grinned. He loved her Simspanian accent, and the way she said his name.
“So no rules, huh? What if I leave my dirty socks on the floor?”
“You’re a grown man. You do your own laundry,” she wrinkled her nose.
“What if…” he rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “I want to stay out with my friends until dawn.”
“Who? Sam? Your cousin?” she snorted. “Isn’t he a morning person?”
“True…” he remarked. “What if… I don’t do my dishes? Or I come home drunk? Or I snore? Or I stomp on the stairs and my foot goes right through…” he trailed off as she squeezed his hand playfully.
“Then you will fix my stairs, Gage Briody.”
“What about the other stuff?”
“I’m not deterred by quirks and poor choices. If you want to be drunk, be drunk. If you won’t do dishes, I’ll hire a butler. If you snore, I’ll just shove you off the bed,” she laughed.
“Oh you will, huh?”
“The only strings I impose are that you do your artwork. You are an artist, Gage,” she placed her hands squarely on his shoulders. “And you must do art if you want to live in this house.”
He chuckled. “Those are strings I can live with.”
Anita called to him sleepily, snapping him out of his idle thoughts.
“Hi,” he said.
“Hi,” she tilted her head to the side and yawned. “What are you doing up so early? It’s not even six yet.”
“Art,” he smiled. “Remember? You said do art. I’m doing it.”
“Right,” she said. “This picture…” she frowned, stepping toward the canvas and eyeing the work discerningly. “There’s something about it… the eyes…”
“Yeah, what about the eyes?” he wrapped his arm around her and squeezed. “I’d like to stare into your eyes.”
“No, you want to kiss my lips, Gage Briody,” she replied, teasingly. “You made her lips like mine, didn’t you?”
“I thought of you, yes, when I was drawing this picture,” he said, pressing his lips into hers and feeling pleasure tingling through his body.
“Yes, me… and…” she glanced over her shoulder at the picture. “…someone else, I think.”
“What? No!” he protested, lifting Anita into his arms and carrying her into the bedroom. “I’m only thinking of you, lover.”
Anita buried her giggles in his neck, tickling his skin with her hot breath.
It wasn’t until later when they were sitting at the dining table. Anita was eating a salad, and Gage had a bowl of chicken soup. They had spent the morning between the sheets, and then an hour each doing their own activities, Anita, some bookkeeping, and Gage, some more drawing.
“Those eyes,” Anita said, almost absently, as she poked at her salad with her fork.
“What about the eyes?” Gage asked, pulling his chair in toward the table.
“They just look like another picture of yours… one I’ve seen in your wallet…”
“You were in my wallet?”
“Well, no, but you left it open the other day while you grabbed a shower. It was a photograph, I think, of a redhaired woman. Who was she?”
Gage frowned. Anita thought the eyes looked like the redhaired woman in a photograph in his wallet. He knew the exact one. It was when he and Kass went to the summer festival in Central Park and they were goofing around and Kass jumped on his back, knocking him down, and they wrestled in the grass. When her face was covered with grass stains, he pulled out his phone and snapped a picture as blackmail. She responded with a laugh, promising she would get him back. It was the summer before senior year. He rubbed the back of his head. Had it been that long since he had a picture taken with Kass? The eyes? Was Anita right?
“No one important.”
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