Uni Years, Episode 7, Bend and Break (LVB)

If Bella thought she’d find peace running, she didn’t. As her feet pounded on the pavement, she slowed to a jog, weaving up and down the streets of Neighborly City. Running usually brought a release for her. Maybe I’m just out of shape, she thought. While she had stretched before she started, the last time she ran five miles had been well over a month ago. Other things had preoccupied her time.Today, she’d settle for two. Two should be enough to clear my mind.

But all her anger toward her parents, her fears about life, and concern for her plans pooled in her mind like an overflowing wine glass, unwelcome and yet unavoidable. She began to doubt running was a good idea at all. Maybe she should have stayed on the line longer this morning and tried to hear her mother out. Maybe there was a reason Jocasta didn’t want Bella to come home for fall break. Maybe she should have tried to explain her frustrations, and maybe her mother would have listened to her. Or maybe she should just forget it all and go home with Daniel over the weekend since he offered.

Daniel. She smiled at the thought of his name. He was a fairly even constant in her life these days, and there was no threat of him overstepping his bounds. She knew he played both sides of the fence, and frankly it didn’t bother her one bit, but both of them knew his parents would probably kill him if they found out. That was why their friendship was safe. They could hang out in each other’s presence with no pressure to be anything other than what they were, and yet to the general public, they appeared to be more than they were. Of course, Jennifer knew, and she was supportive of her brother’s choices, though she did lightly lecture Bella on occasion about the dangers of letting people believe untruths. Bella knew Jennifer just didn’t want her brother to get hurt, and while she was aware of the possibility and, if she dared to admit, sexual tension between them, she was content to remain friends with Daniel.

Going home with Daniel, she was certain to get a few curious questions from his mom and possibly a lighthearted quip about the two being soulmates from his dad. Daniel would pretend to be embarrassed and Bella would laugh awkwardly and then it would be done. They could enjoy the weekend together without any further inferences. Daniel had the whole weekend planned – a bonfire on the beach the first night back with cheap wine coolers and second-rate juice, because that was all he could afford. Bella was game for roasting marshmallows and tinking around on the guitar under the autumn stars. Saturday morning, they would attend the pancake breakfast at the firehouse and make a small charitable donation, followed by a Misimgan Sparks pro-soccer game that Bella was sure Daniel blew all his money on obtaining tickets. She thought it was sweet so she would go. Sunday morning they would duck into the Learning Center and make fun of whatever educational speaker was lecturing followed by a picnic and reciting poetry in the stacks on the fourth floor because no one ever went to the dusty old books section. Daniel, like his father, shared a flair for the dramatic and he was most excellent at mimicking all the voices in Simspearean plays. Even if it was goofy, Bella was glad someone could make her laugh. Sunday night, they would be sure to stop at Woodland Park on the way out of town for the best ice cream in the Midwest, waffle cones, Bella would insist, and chocolate dipped, because they wanted extravagance.

Maybe that’s what she needed – to blow off steam and get out of town. They wouldn’t be leaving till tomorrow morning, but that just meant her dorm should be quiet and peaceful with most of the students moved out for the weekend. The more Bella thought about going home with Daniel, the more she felt depressed. She could safely visit Pleasantview without running into her parents because her mother was at a medical covention in Simcago and her father was attending the Midwestern Peteran Conference in the state capitol for the weekend. Even Michael was on the west coast for a robotics tournament, and was visiting the golden state in style, thanks to Mortimer Goth putting her brother and his team up in his summer home.

How sad is it that I can go home and no one would even know I was there? Bella’s muscles ached and she slowed her pace. Was it just her bones? Maybe my heart is aching too. She was grateful the clouds were gathering on the horizon. Rain would match her dreary mood much better than a star-studded night. As the fog rolled in, Bella felt reassured that the universe was listening to her desires. She kicked a rock with her shoe and it clinked against the hubcap of a parked car.

“Sorry,” she murmured to the inanimate object.

She lifted her hand in thanks for the driver waiting for her as she cut across the street toward Landgrabb Boarding House, her dormitory. Named for the famous, or infamous, depending upon whom you asked, Landgrabb family, Bella found her abode to be lacking in pleasantries. Sure, it was furnished and had updated appliances and a common area, but she sort of wished for some more color and decor, a Gothic golden lampstand or two and an antique mantle clock to keep her company on her late nights studying.

Bella sighed as she climbed the outside steps. Only a mile and three quarters. Two miles three days a week should’ve been enough to satisfy her, but she was annoyed at herself for falling out of her routine. Upon entering the dorm, Bella halted, inhaling and exhaling deeply, wiping sweat from her brow. She wished her shorts wouldn’t stick to her legs like they did after she exercised. She tugged on her sports bra lightly to allow air to circulate.

As Bella rounded the corner, she gasped. A figure with a shock of blue hair was slumped over in front of her door, his shoulders shaking. The man was breathing heavily, wincing as he braced one hand against his ripped pants and the other against the thin brown carpet. A familiar green-yellow bottle of Mountain Rain slipped from his hand and rolled behind the ornate orange potted palm plant.

“Are you okay?” Bella asked, gruffly, still fueled by the frustration over her life circumstances.

He was in her way. She just wanted to climb into bed and sleep forever. When the young man didn’t answer, she wondered why she bothered and started to step past him, pulling her keys from her pocket. His moan echoed throughout the hallway. She froze, her keys perched above the key hole, and wished she didn’t have to deal with this tonight. Repeating her question, Bella knelt next to the man and touched the small of his back. She felt him recoil, wincing in pain, and when she removed her hand, it was stained with a thick red substance. Blood! She shivered.

“Hey, what happened? Are you in any pain?” she asked, reaching her arms out to help him sit.

The man slumped against the wall, pulling his legs up to his chest defensively, turning his head so she couldn’t fully see his face. He couldn’t have been much older than her, though his unnatural blue hair and lack of facial hair could be contributing to his young look. He was paler than a ghost in a haunted house, his skin almost an unnatural white. His shoes were made from expensive leather, the kind one would buy in Sims Fifth Avenue in Big Apple City, yet the rest of him suggested nothing of wealth – threadbare and holey dark jeans, no belt, and a blue button-down shirt that looked as though an animal had attacked it. His eyeglasses lay in a tangled, cracked heap on the floor, partially wedged between her doorway and the hallway. A burnt orange dried blood stained the bridge of his nose, and his left eye was blackened and swollen shut. His right eye showed the beginnings of bruises in the soft tissues beneath, and his cheeks bore the markings of a boot print. What the hell happened? Bella wondered, reaching for the man’s quaking hands.

Blood began to drip from inside his nose, and he sniffed, and began coughing. Bella pulled a squished, but unused tissue from her pocket. He flinched, hitting his head against the wall, and she motioned to his face. He seemed unresponsive, his eyes glassy and bloodshot. Bella leaned in and tenderly pinched his nose for him. His diluted rain-colored eyes pooled with gratitude as his own hand replaced hers. Bella was surprised, as he had initially refused her help, and now he cried openly, though silently, before her. It takes a strong man to weep in the presence of a woman, she recalled her father’s wise words. He needed to cry, she supposed. He looked as though he was beaten and bent by the devil himself.

Bella frowned. Something about the man seemed familiar, and yet she had never seen him before, or at least she couldn’t remember seeing him before.

“Are you…” she began.

He didn’t even hear her question as his head dipped forward. Before she realized what she was doing, Bella wrapped her arms around the man to keep him from landing face down in the hallway.

“Um?”

Bella almost felt guilty for her utterance. She didn’t know the guy and he had passed out in her arms. One whiff of him told her that he wasn’t drunk as he didn’t smell of alcohol, and he didn’t fit the image of a stoner. She sat with her legs outstretched, hoping no one rounded the corner and saw her with the strange man across her lap. She weighed her options, knowing she could easily move him, even if he was twice her size, but to where? She could call her resident assistant, but she doubted the woman would be able to do anything for the man other than call an ambulance. Maybe she should call the cops. It wasn’t her problem.

Oh yes it is! a voice echoed in her head. You made it your problem the minute you stopped to help him.

“I’m not the flipping good Samaritan!” Bella cursed beneath her breath, letting his arms drop momentarily.

Maybe if she went outside she could find someone on the quad across the street on campus. There was almost always someone on the quad, even this late at night, though she wondered if she should abandon the man. Sighing heavily, Bella did the only thing she really could do.

On Saturday evening, the man finally roused. It had been over forty-eight hours since Bella had rescued him from the hallway. She had called Daniel trying to keep an even tone as she explained she had too much homework, and it would be better to stay on campus for fall break. Naturally, he had tried to talk her out of it and was incredibly disappointed and almost angry when she refused to come home to Pleasantview. After all, he had made so many plans for them, and now he would have to face his parents alone since Jennifer was visiting her boyfriend, John on his family’s farm in Old Town, Virsimia. In a panic, Bella had hung up on Daniel, most likely making things worse, but she couldn’t exactly abandon the strange man in her room.

For two days, he slept, face down on her pillow. She kept trying to tilt his head to the side, worried he wouldn’t be able to breathe, but the man still seemed alive. She thought about calling a hospital when he didn’t wake up after the first night, but she didn’t know who he was or how she would explain his presence. Since she barely left the room, afraid of leaving the man alone, Bella managed to finish all her homework fairly quickly, and then she took the extra time to work on her Simlish literature mid-term paper due in a few weeks. When she completed the paper, she decided to give herself a break and ran to the store to pick up some items – a few premade meals and bottled water, and a fresh nail polish.

Then she began to wonder about the man and what he might need when he woke up. Bella swiped a first aid kit from the pharmacy, some sewing thread from the arts and crafts department, and then wandered through the men’s department until she found a white tee shirt. She hummed and hawed, uncertain of the man’s pant size so she picked out three different pairs of jeans, figuring she could return what he didn’t use. When she reached the checkout, she panicked. What if he didn’t want the clothes? What if he was scared when he woke up and she wasn’t there? What if… he wasn’t there when she returned? Bella quickly paid for all her items and rushed back to the dorm.

Thankfully, the man was still asleep, and Bella sighed in relief, collapsing on the ottoman that had been her uncomfortable bed for the past two nights. She decided to go for a quick jog around the block to clear her head. When she returned, she plopped down at her computer and began playing one of her favorite mystery games. It helped to pass the time, and she needed to do something relaxing. Within the hour, the man had stirred, lifting himself from his sleeping position. He looked bewildered and pale, but surprisingly, his hair was still perfectly in place and he didn’t have a pillow imprint on his face.

“You’re awake,” Bella said, saving her game and twirling in her desk chair as he slumped forward, weak from his long hours of sleeping.

She leaned and grabbed his wrist to keep him from falling. “Hey take it easy.”

He didn’t say anything, but slowly moved to a seated position. She tried to project an aura of soothing so the man wouldn’t freak out. She figured she could take him if he reacted violently, but that wouldn’t change the fact that he knew where she lived. He had been resting in her dorm room for the past two days. He could have awakened while she was gone.

“Cat got your tongue?” Bella asked cheekily, and he looked up into her face blankly.

This is weird, she plopped on her ottoman and folded her arms across her chest.

“So um… do you speak?” she asked.

“Yes,” he replied meekly.

“You talk! Hallelujah!” she threw her hands up in the air sarcastically.

“Halle…” he repeated. “Lu…jah?”

“Yeah, you know Praise the Lord,” she replied.

“Which lord, milady?” he puzzled.

“Milady,” she snickered. “Um… no, you can call me Bella. What’s your name?”

“Um…” he blinked rapidly. “Emit…” he hesitated, wincing as if trying to remember his own name. “Emit..Emit Relevart in your glorious debt, milady.”

Bella giggled. “Bella, really. Please call me Bella. And it’s nice to meet you Emit Relevart,” she stretched out her hand to shake his own.

He frowned, and leaned against the wall.

“Okay, not a hand shaker,” she shrugged. “That’s okay. I guess. I mean, it’s not very polite since I’ve been taking care of you for forty-eight hours, but whatever.”

“Forty-eight hours?” he repeated.

“Yes, two whole days. I’ve never seen someone sleep that long,” she replied.

“It is my rejuvenation cycle,” he said simply. “I am…” he touched his cheek. “…healed.”

“Oh…kay…” she made a face.

As she observed him, she realized he no longer had a black eye and the blood had disappeared. Not even a scab remained, which was strange, but she shrugged it off. Color hadn’t returned to his skin yet. Bella stood up and snagged a juice box from her mini fridge and handed him a drink before grabbing herself one. Emit lifted himself from the bed and moved to her desk chair.

“Well, that’s a long time to sleep,” she remarked, poking the straw through the hole of her carton.

“It is normal among my people,” Emit shook his head, following suit with his own straw.

“And what people is that?” she asked, getting tired of this strange conversation.

If it was possible, Emit paled even more. He averted his eyes, staring at the top of his juice box.

“This is delicious,” he remarked.

Bella decided to let him change the subject. “Yeah, it’s fruit punch.”

“Fruit… punch?” he repeated, looking confused. “Why would you punch a fruit?”

Bella laughed. “No… the drink is called fruit punch… punch… like a drink made from fruit juice, no? You don’t know what I’m talking about?”

“I like your fruit punch,” Emit stated.

“Well, it’s not mine,” Bella returned to her seat on the ottoman. “I just bought it at the store.”

“Milady,” he leaped to his feet, and immediately knelt before her, laying one arm across his knee and bowing his head. “Forgive me. I did not offer you the chair.”

Bella rolled her eyes, and laid her hands on the man’s shoulders. “Please don’t do that. There’s plenty of seats. I’m fine here.”

Emit lifted his eyes graciously, and murmured a lengthy thanks before sitting cross-legged on the floor. When Bella asked him why he didn’t sit in her desk chair, he replied that it was improper for a man’s head to be above a woman’s, and since she was sitting on the couch, her head was lower than his so the only proper thing for him to do was to sit on the floor. Bella grimaced wondering where the man was getting all his strange ideas, and then just figured Emit was a foreign exchange student from somewhere.

“Can I ask you what happened?” she inquired, slurping her drink, and wiping her mouth.

“Milady is making the most unusual sounds,” he remarked, his grey eyes full of curiosity as he attempted to slurp through the straw also.

Bella doubled over laughing. Emit was a wonder. And he wouldn’t stop calling her milady. She was starting to like the sound, even if it sounded as though he was stuck in another century. She wondered why he didn’t want to answer her question. She cleared her throat, slumping off the couch onto the floor. He immediately bowed his head, placing his arms flat on the floor.

“No, no, no, that won’t do,” Bella tugged his arm and forced him into a sitting position. “Look I don’t know where you come from but here in the Sim Nation it’s totally cool for you to just sit on the floor with me or wherever for that matter.”

“Totally cool,” he said slowly. “I had no idea that this concept was related to temperature.”

“Ugh!” Bella rubbed the side of her face in frustration. “Um… okay… why don’t you just sit there and tell me what happened to you? Why were you outside my door on Thursday night?”

“I fell upon your doorstep by pure chance, milady, and you bestowed upon me grace befitting of a queen by allowing me to take refuge in your quarters,” he replied.

“Go on,” Bella urged, leaning forward as she pressed her palms into the carpet, trying to ignore his odd way of speaking.

“I had been taking a late evening walk and I was happened upon by some cruel and large gentlemen.”

“So you were beaten up?” Bella inserted impatiently.

He called them gentlemen? 

“In my wor… I mean, my home place… my town of residence… my home… um… we… the men, do not fight one another unless a female should ask us to,” he explained. “…so I am very much befuddled by their posturing to me as if I were a blight upon this world and they must rid this world of me.”

Bella frowned. “I doubt anyone wants to rid the world of you. Did you anger them or something?”

“Not that I recall. I was simply… what you say… minding my beeswax…and I happened to find a delightful variation of night-blooming jasmine. I stooped to pluck the beauty that I could only hope to be worthy to hold between the wisps of my fingers when they pounded me from behind and did not stop until they had stomped out what felt like most of the life in me, calling me all sorts of foul things that I shan’t repeat in the presence of a lady.”

Bella touched her lip, feeling sadness. He was jumped by a merciless group of bullies. She had heard horror stories of gangs of thugs running around the Sim Nation, beating up supernaturals. The world tolerated the Sims with superhuman abilities, but most people still didn’t like the idea of paranormal beings living among the general population even in a decade as progressive as the ’80s. Bella felt sick to her stomach, aware of her own abilities and genes. It was not like she chose to be supernatural. But her parents had chosen to try and cure her, and she had kept her powers hidden for years. It helped that she appeared normal enough, but if she had been open about who she really was, perhaps she would be facing a fate similar to the man before her. Bella now had a newfound understanding of her parents’ wishes.

“I’m sorry,” she said quietly.

“You have nothing to apologize for. It was not you who chose to make an example of me by the trash receptacle behind your building.”

Emit spoke with utter sincerity, but Bella tried hard not to laugh. His phrasing was almost amusing. Still, the thought of anyone being beaten behind her building made her nervous.

“Can I get you anything else?” she asked, timidly.

“No, you have done enough, milady,” he replied. “Thank you for your hospitality. Might I leave?”

He was requesting her permission to leave? Bella puzzled as she stood.

Emit quickly stood, keeping his head bent, almost as if afraid to look into her face. She resisted the urge to touch his alabaster chin, though she was undeniably drawn to the man.

“Of course,” she said hoarsely. “Of course, you may leave, Emit.”

H’valak vamek,” he uttered in a strange tongue, and then looked almost confused, touching his own lips as if he couldn’t believe what he had said.

“What?” she struggled to ask, her heart pounding, threatening to leave her chest.

“Oh…it is in my mother tongue,” he replied. “It means… thank you.”

“Oh…um… okay,” she shrugged, her hair falling over her shoulder. “You’re welcome.”

Emit reached for her face with his hulking pale-as-moonlight hands, his thumb alone stretching the entire length of her profile, his other fingers tucked behind her ear and into her hair. He lowered his head, pressing his forehead against her own as he closed his eyes, and she caught her breath in bewilderment and awe, wondering what he was doing. The gesture was intimate, but nothing about Emit’s actions felt awkward. Bella felt oddly comforted by his touch as if they were two old friends embracing after a long absence.

Z’dra’vej’jo a’lim’ma al’lieck, milady Bella,” he murmured. “Bo’di do’broh-hag.”

The foreign words were harsh, but his tone was gentle and soothing. She shivered, enjoying the way he said her name.

“What? What does it mean?” she asked, her voice barely above a whisper.

“It has the meaning of… health and wisdom and protection for you; be well, Bella.”


Author Note: So I’ve been waiting to do a story with Emit Relevart. I had to use cheats and mods to recreate him and make his character playable, but I hope you are as pleased with his character as I am. I am going to leave his origins a mystery for now, but the language he was speaking is based on real-life Slovenian and Greek, both of which I am not a native speaker, and I added my own twist to the words, ripe with apostrophes, because it’s fun.

A few quick side notes, the Misimigan Sparks are based on Chicago Fire, a pro soccer team in Illinois. Mountain Rain is my Simworld version of Mountain Dew. Sims Fifth Avenue is a play on Saks Fifth Avenue. At this time in history, supernaturals are tolerated, but many are outcasts, and most are considered second-class citizens.

Hope you enjoyed!

Previous Chapter: Episode 6, Family 

Next Chapter: Episode 8, Sleepless

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Uni Years, Episode 6, Family (LVB)

Laughter erupted around the table, for the third time in the evening. Bella was enjoying her impromptu welcome-back-to-uni dinner with the Pleasant family. They were certainly enjoyable to be around. Jennifer’s dad, Jeff Pleasant worked for SIMSA, but unlike most engineers Bella knew, Jeff had a taste for theatrical storytelling, utilizing his entire body to share tales from the cockpit of the tester space jets.

Bella particularly enjoyed his most recent retelling of the time he and his buddy decided to fly upside down into Luna’s space dock. His superior officers were not pleased and when they asked why Jeff and his comrade tried to crash land onto Luna, Jeff replied with a salute, “Sir, I just planet that way.” Jennifer and Daniel rolled their eyes, accustomed to hearing their dad say the same stories over and over again, but Bella didn’t mind. It was nice to see a family having fun together. It was hard to remember the last time she had a congenial dinner with her parents and Michael.

After his most recent joke, Jeff’s wife, Diane leaned over and teased that his wicked sense of humor was a sign he had missed his calling as a comedian. Bella smiled at the small sign of affection between husband and wife – Diane’s hand laid gently on his knee, ever so slightly caressing with her fingers, and Jeff’s smile broadening as he felt her touch. Jeff once said he and Diane prioritized time together when he came back from his trips, and they would spend the first evening out together on the town before spending time together as a whole family.

Bella figured it must be nice for Diane to be home full-time, taking care of the house and family. She couldn’t remember the last time her mom had even taken a sick day. Jocasta often worked sixty hour weeks, and when she was home, she was most likely catching up on sleep.  Simis also spent most of his days at the church parish, seeing to the needs of his parishioners before stumbling home after eleven at night and leaving before seven. That meant microwave dinners  and cold cereal breakfasts for Bella and teenage brother, that’s if Michael wasn’t snacking on a candy bar by the time Bella got up. He was generally already on his way out the door to meet a friend or go to school or whatever it was he did. Sometimes Bella went to grab a greasy sandwich at Golden Arches and she would sit in the play area watching the mothers with their kids just so she didn’t feel so lonely.

“I wonder where our food is,” the redhaired Daniel Pleasant inquired. “I have things to do and people to see.”

“Your fraternity brothers can wait,” Diane lowered her eyes and clucked her tongue.

“Yeah, they are probably weighting in right now in that fancy basement gym the frat house has,” Jeff smirked, winking at his son.

Bella smirked.

“Dad!” Jennifer exclaimed, rolling her eyes, as she reached forward to straighten the vase in the center of the table.

“I’m sure our food will be here any minute,” Diane added.

“I just want a drink,” Daniel remarked. “They haven’t even brought us our drinks and they aren’t even busy in here tonight.”

Bella glanced about the bar and grill. The Boogie On Down to University Way was typically packed with people college co-eds and professors alike catching up on the latest university gossip over plates of mouthwatering hamburgers and deep fried onion rings, unwinding over bottled sodas and beers, busting new and often ridiculous moves on the dance floor, raucously entertaining their peers with off-key renditions of pop songs or  shyly serenading their sweethearts with silly little love ballads. However, tonight, the bar and grille seemed fairly vacant, save a football coach drafting plays on the back of his napkin while sipping his whiskey neat at the counter and the elderly librarian furiously knitting in the back corner booth while listening to Simzart much too loudly through her headphones and finishing the remnants of her lemon ice box pie. Bella shrugged, figuring the masses would pour in after the weekend, first the football jocks and cheerleaders, then the first-time freshman and transfer students, and then finally the upperclassmen en masse bragging about all the amazing things they did over the summer and planning out their social itineraries for the year. In a way, it was nice to return early; she could unpack in peace and enjoy more time with family… even if Jennifer and Daniel were not related to her. She considered the Pleasants more her family than her own family somedays.

Post a dinner of Mozzarella sticks, medium-rare cheeseburgers and garlic fries, house made slaw, and hot fudge sundaes, Bella made the ridiculous decision to sing karaoke with Daniel on a full stomach. The football coach had left and the librarian was still knitting, but the only other inhabitants of the restaurant was the bartender and the Pleasants. Bella gulped, trying to swallow a burp threatening to make its way to the surface, and Daniel nudged her playfully.

“What should we sing, love?” he asked.

Bella smiled, and fluttered her eyelashes. Daniel always called her “love.” It was his term of endearment for one of his closest and oldest friends. They had enjoyed years of flirting, even though they hadn’t really dated, minus one awful night their first year in college when they both decided to drink shots while sitting on top of the water tower and play Truth or Dare at two in the morning. Though it was a year ago, Bella still felt the sting of defeat, sitting in her underwear puking her guts out over the side with Daniel stood in his boxer shorts, holding her hair. It had been fun while it lasted, and she recalled he was actually an excellent kisser when they made out on one of the dares, but neither one of them ever spoke of that night ever again, and probably for good reason. Bella decided to swallow her pride. The humiliation of singing in public was minuscule to that night, even if Daniel had been her only witness.

I Want You Back by the Jacksim Five,” she said cheekily.

Daniel grinned and punched the song into the machine as she picked up their microphones. Bella, of course, took the lead, singing most of the lyrics of the classic bubblegum pop song. She scrunched her shoulders and nose in a cutesy way as she made faces at Daniel while they sang through the number, and Daniel kept the rhythm, slapping his hand against his jeans and echoing his words in perfect time. Jennifer whooped delightedly from the table, and Jeff and Diane stood up and twirled about on the dance floor. Even the bartender on duty smiled and clapped to the beat. When they were finished, Daniel high-fived Bella and she coyly placed a kiss on his cheek bringing color to his face.

The elder Pleasants paid for dinner and went to help Daniel unload his gear at the fraternity house. The girls had already moved into their dorms, and bid Jeff and Diane a good night. Bella watched somewhat jealously as Jennifer hugged both her father and mother, and the parents both leaned in to kiss their daughter’s head. She wished her mother and father had taken the time to at least drive her back to Neighborly City for her sophomore year, especially after spending little time with their daughter over the summer vacation. Bella had seen more of her brother and paternal grandparents in Simspania than her parents. Even Mortimer had made the time to visit and take her for a ride on his yacht along the Meditersimmian coastline.

Jeff, Diane, and Daniel waved goodbye, and Bella snapped out of her wishful thoughts, smiling and waving in return. Jennifer accompanied Bella back to her dorm. The girls were bummed they wouldn’t be rooming together this year, but Jennifer would be living nearby in the Peanut Street Apartments, less than a block away. The girls reminisced about their vacations as they talked and laughed and navigated around puddles from the newly fallen rain.

Upon arriving at the Landgrabb Boarding House, a commotion caught their attention, pulling them away from giggly conversation. A white-blonde haired woman wearing a jean blazer and much-too-short-a-mini-skirt for her age stood on the lawn outside their dorm yelling at a muscular, strawberry-blonde haired younger man, presumably her son. 

“You should be grateful I even drove you at all,” the woman shouted.

Margaret, your chauffeur drove!” the man protested. “You sat in the back and talked on the car phone the entire time. The least you could do is stay and have dinner with me.”

“Don’t call me by my first name!” the woman grunted.

“Right, because calling you mom makes so much sense,” the man rolled his eyes. “You’ve never been a mother to me and you know it. ”

“Shut up, you little brat!” the woman shrieked. “The only reason I drove you to this campus is because your father made me. He seems to think you’ll make something of yourself this year if you transfer to his alma mater…” she narrowed her eyes and glared. “…but we both know better since you show absolutely no initiative at all whatsoever.”

“Say what you really mean, why don’t you?” the man snarled sarcastically. “Why do you have to be so cruel?”

“Wow,” Jennifer whispered. “That woman is a witch. Isn’t that Malcolm Landgrabb?”

“The fourth, I think,” Bella nodded, twisting her one foot behind the other.

“And his mother, Margaret, I guess,” Jennifer said quietly. “All the newspapers say she’s a powerhouse. I mean, she’s got her own company and all. Dad worked with her once since her business does all the advertising for SIMSA’s educational awareness campaigns and their partnerships with the Youth Corps.”

“You mean the Youth Force for Good… the YFFG?” Bella corrected. “They renamed the institution… better sounding, I guess.”

“Well look at you,” Jennifer covered her mouth to keep her laugh from traveling. “What? Are you thinking of joining up?”

Bella had no intention whatsoever, but she was attempting to keep the conversation off Malcolm Landgrabb the fourth and his mother as long as possible.

“What if I was?” she shrugged.

“Whatever,” Jennifer smiled pleasantly. “Dad said Mrs. Landgrabb wasn’t all that nice, but since SIMSA chose her firm, he had to work with her. I think he…” she interrupted herself with a yawn. “…pawned the work off on a subordinate.”

“I would too,” Bella said, narrowing her eyes as the woman stormed off the front lawn like a petulant child.

She breathed a sign of relief that the woman didn’t recognize her, and Malcolm had already turned to walk inside. There was no need to explain anything tonight. Margaret’s limousine nearly hit a passing taxi cab as it sped away from the curb and squealed around the other vehicle as if they could not wait to be out of Neighborly City.

“Wow!” Jennifer exclaimed. “Talk about wild family dynamics. She seems positively terrible.”

“You know what’s terrible?” Bella tried to change the subject. “Standing out here on a humid night without heaping bowls of ice cream. Come inside, I have a mini fridge.”

“I guess,” Jennifer said, hesitantly. “You think Malcolm came back early on purpose. To avoid the drama? Imagine when all the freshman are arriving in a week!” she whistled. “Holy cow! I wouldn’t want that kind of confrontation with all those students around.”

Bella climbed the steps ignoring her friend’s statement. The last people she wanted to discuss were the Landgrabbs. Jennifer hurried to catch up, taking two stairs at a time, her boots thudding across the porch.

“So Malcolm Landgrabb the Fourth lives in your dorm?” Jennifer grinned. “He’s pretty dreamy. Even if he is descended from detestable genes…” she trailed off, still watching the fading lights of Margaret Landgrabb’s vehicle before turning to follow Bella into the boarding house. “Too bad he’s taken. He and I would make beautiful babies…” she swooned, flouncing into the hallway with one leg tucked behind her in the air and her arms dramatically sweeping in front of her.

“Sure,” Bella rolled her eyes, putting her key into her room door. “Let’s eat that Cherry Simcia.”


Author Note: I hope you enjoyed another Bella chapter. I had fun writing about the Pleasant family. I love puns, but go figure, when I was trying too hard to think up one for Jeff Pleasant, I couldn’t come up with a great one. Lol. I tried to make the Pleasants look as accurate to their Sims 2 selves as possible with a few of my own creative flourishes.

Bella and Jennifer are sophmores at Sim State University, which was remade for Sims 3 by psychedelicsim and OkieOk01 The remade world is called Neighborly Sim State so in my Simworld, Sim State University is in Neighborly City, Misimigan. Boogie on Down to University Way is a lot in the cc world.

As I’ve mentioned before SIMSA is my Simworld version of NASA. Golden Arches is McDonalds. Simzart is the classical composer Mozart. The Jacksim Five is a play on the Jackson 5. Cherry Simsia is a play on the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor Cherry Garcia. The Meditersimmian Sea is a play on the Mediterranean Sea in Eurasia.

I also tried to recreate Malcolm Landgrabb IV and his mother, Margaret as best as I could, and decided I would take more creative liberties with them. Margaret Landgrabb previously worked for the Buckingham Broadcasting Agency (her maiden name) and she currently is the CEO of Superior Advertising. I picked the name Superior since this story is set in Misimigan near Superior Lake (a.k.a. Lake Superior in Mighigan). Malcolm Landgrabb IV is a transfer to Sim State University and is a junior.

And finally, if you’ve read Kassiopeia Fullbright and the Lost Legacy, you might recall a mention of the Youth Corps. Either way, I’ll explain. During the mid 2350s, Food Riots began on Luna, the moon world next to Simterra, and many people perished on both sides of the civil war, leaving a high count of orphans. The three major Simterran governments of Sim Union, Sim Nation, and Siminia-Simshuan Alliance formed a program called the Youth Corps for the Lost Children. However, the program was wildly unpopular after the media discovered the teens were being trained in military tactics with the help of the Orbix, an alien race who also trains their children for battle. The program was scrapped, but reintroduced to society in the mid-to-late 2380s and renamed Youth Corps for Good, designed to help place teens in study-programs and apprenticeships, irregardless of their family status.

Thanks for reading! 🙂

Previous Chapter: Episode 5, Proposal 

Next Chapter: Episode 7, Bend and Break

Early Years, Episode 5: Proposal (LVB)

“The coffee is good, Mrs. Bachelor,” Mortimer said.

“It’s Doc Bachelor,” Simis said, coming into the room with the biggest grin on his face.

Mortimer smiled. The man had such pride and affection for his wife. “Excuse me, Dr. Bachelor.”

“Oh, don’t worry about it,” Jocasta said, waving her hand. “I don’t mind if you call me Jocasta.”

“I know what your daughter is.”

Both Simis and Jocasta stared blankly at the man as if he had grown a horn between his eyes.

“Don’t worry. I have no intention of telling anyone.”

“I’m not sure what you mean,” Simis spoke first, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Your defensive posture confirms I am right,” Mortimer said, almost smugly, but quickly dissolved into a softer smile. “Bella is… a vampire…” he tilted his head to look at Jocasta. “…and a witch hybrid, am I right?”

Jocasta released a soft gasp, lifting her hand to her mouth. Simis reached over and squeezed his wife’s hand.

“What are you getting at, Mr. Goth?” Simis narrowed his eyes.

“Forgive me,” Mortimer said. “I suspected at the beach last year and then we’ve been writing back and forth and she’s been revealing bits of herself that she isn’t even aware of, but to the trained eye, a person could figure it out.”

“Oh heavens!” Jocasta gasped.

“She doesn’t know that I know, but I think I can help her to control her powers and conceal her identity a bit more so,” Mortimer offered. “I also know about your most recent money troubles…”

“Now wait…” Simis burst out.

Mortimer held up his hand. “I am on the board of the financial institution you have applied for a loan through…and I promise everything is still confidential, but when I saw your names…”

Jocasta and Simis looked at one another.

“…and I made the connection, I figured I could help. I have a proposal for you, Mr. and Mrs. Bachelor, if you’ll hear me out,” he explained.

Simis grunted and stretched out his legs in a defensive posture. Jocasta laid her hand across her husband’s lap and rubbed his thigh reassuringly.

“Let’s hear what he has to say,” she remarked.

“Fine,” Simis grumbled.

“Bella is a bright, beautiful young woman, and I can see that she goes far in life,” Mortimer began. “I know you want what is best for your daughter. Before when I mentioned I know about her condition…”

“We got God to fix that one,” Simis said abruptly.

“Sir, with all due respect, you cannot pray away her supernatural genes… and yes, I know there is witch blood in your line, Jocasta, and vampire in yours, Simis,” Mortimer leaned across the table. “I know you took out a second mortgage to pay for that trip to Al Simhara when Bella was a toddler, and having visited the city myself, I know it is known for mystic healers so I pieced things together.”

Simis made a face, and Jocasta looked pained.

“I know you are wondering why I have paid so much interest to your family, but the truth is, your daughter has incredible gifts that she is suppressing but hardly knows she has… or how to control it, which is dangerous. My family has formed a foundation devoted to the research of paranormal and promoting wellness in the supernatural community, while hunting for cures to deadly diseases that could potentially affect your daughter…” Mortimer continued.

“But the government… and the schools… they aren’t teaching these things. They say that these are the anomalies and not the norm and that we shouldn’t be worried about these kinds of things,” Jocasta interjected.

“Padre will protect our daughter. I have faith,” Simis said, defiantly.

Mortimer shook his head. “Frankly, the government is wrong and they are scared. They don’t want news of an outbreak getting out or the potential that these supernaturals have already integrated into our society. And no offense to your religion, Shepherd Bachelor, but we need to also have reason with our faith, and we need to be reasonably concerned about these things. Science will help us to understand and to protect people like Bella. I understand this to be a house of science…” he glanced at Jocasta, who looked down at her hands and over to Simis. “…and faith.”

“What would you have us do?” Jocasta asked, quietly.

“I have a proposal to make. I will pay for Bella’s medical care and her education. I will pay off your mortgage so you can stay in your home, and I will also help place you, Jocasta, in a top research hospital. I can’t think of a better person to help Bella through all this than her own mother,” Mortimer explained. “You would be studying with the nation’s premier doctors. And I believe the bump in pay will ease your financial burden and help you to focus on your work for the Padre, Simis.”

Simis frowned. “You would do all that? For what? What do you want in exchange?”

“I would like your permission to marry Bella,” Mortimer said simply.

Jocasta’s mouth dropped open and Simis coughed.

“But she’s just a child,” Jocasta interjected.

“You said you’ve been writing her,” Simis narrowed his eyes. “Have you also been visiting her… behind our backs? Is Bella…impure?”

“Hey, I’m an decent guy. I swear I haven’t touched her and today is the first time I’ve seen her in a year,” Mortimer held up both his hands. “Bella will finish university first, and should she choose to get a masters and a doctorate, I will wait for her. I promise to wait until our wedding night.”

Bella stopped dead still in the hallway when she heard the words wedding night. What were her parents and Mortimer discussing?  Bella pressed a hand to the wall,  hardly straining her ears to hear in the next room.

“I have a contract,” Mortimer set a portfolio on the table, and seeing the Bachelors skeptical look continued,  “…to protect Bella’s best interest and all invested parties.”

My best interest?  Bella wondered.  What was happening?

“Bella will be expected to maintain good grades just like any scholarship,  but I will handle all school expenses – whatever she needs… supplies,  food,  clothing,  housing,  etcetera.”

“Her friend is going to college with her.  They were to room together,” Jocasta said.

“Not a problem.  I can make the necessary arrangements,” Mortimer assured.

“That’s all you want? Marriage to my daughter in exchange for all that?” Simis said incredulously. “I will not have my daughter become a lab experiment.”

“Oh no!” Mortimer exclaimed.  “Absolutely not. You have my word and it’s in the contract. Bella will not be experimented on and will only receive high level care and coaching. I do, however,  expect children in our future.  The Goths require an heir. I can…” he glanced at Jocasta.  “… expect she is relatively healthy in that department as far as you know and she has not been with anyone else?”

Bella blushed, mortified,  placing a hand protectively across her abdomen.  A mother?  She wasn’t ready to be a mother. She wasn’t ready to be a wife. She backed into the stairwell in complete shock, purposely tuning out so she wouldn’t hear her mom’s response. It was true. She was still a virgin,  but how the hell was that Mortimer Goth’s business? She now wished she could run away.  She wished she had never written the man. She wished she never met him. This was too surreal. She couldn’t believe what she heard her mother say next.

“Now that we got the details out of the way, why don’t we retire to the living room? It’s much more comfortable there, and Simis and I would like to get to know you better,” Jocasta offered.

“I’d like that,” Mortimer said, standing up. “As much as this is a business arrangement, I would like to think of us as future in-laws. I think it would be more comfortable for everyone.”

In-laws? Bella blanked in the hallway. Marriage? Marry Mr. Goth? She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She ran upstairs to her room,  collapsing on her bed in frustrated tears,  completely forgetting about the party and her friend waiting for her downstairs. Her parents wanted to marry her off to a much older man. Eleven years older to be exact.

Bella was about to start university. She was about to start her life.  The same parents who refused to let her date in high school were now arranging her marriage as if she was a cow directed to mate with a bull. How could they do this? Why were they doing this?

Bella marched downstairs,  determined to give them all a piece of her mind.  She hesitated in the hallway,  losing her nerve after seeing Mortimer was still present.

“I just hope we’re doing the right thing for everyone involved,” Jocasta closed her eyes, feeling the weight of their decision pushing her conscience. “Well, I know we are. It’s just…” she heaved a sigh. “…I need to still process everything.”

“We are,” Simis assured, glancing at his wife.

“I promise I will come around regularly so your family can get to know me better, and learn to trust me. I know this will be a very fruitful partnership,” Mortimer added as if to reassure the couple on the couch.

Only Bella, who was still standing dumbfounded in the hallway, felt like things weren’t right. How can my parents do this to me? What kind of man offers this kind of thing? Is he really that desperate for a wife? Bella couldn’t help but feel the knife of betrayal sticking out of her heart, stabbing her not once… not twice… but three times. Bella raced out of the house,  not even caring,  even though she knew her mother hated when she allowed the door to slam.

Jennifer Pleasant was still playing the keyboard in the music room when Bella reached the front window. She waited for a moment, listening to her friend’s awful practicing, and wondering if Jenni knew she wasn’t all that good. Her friend smiled and waved one -handedly when she saw Bella continuing to play some terrible rendition of a classical piece.

“Hi, I was wondering if you’d ever come,” Jenni said as Bella climbed through the window.  “Are we sneaking out because I think your parents know I’m here.”

“That weird guy I told you about? The one from the beach? Well, he’s here,” Bella said, almost absently as she plopped on the red ottoman.

“Really?” Jennie looked up, her eyes widening with excitement. “Wasn’t he cute?”

“Yeah, I guess,” Bella shrugged, and glanced at her nails. “Um… he’s handsome-ish.”

“Oh swoon!” Jennie sighed dramatically, lifting her hand off the keyboard.

“I think my parents want me to marry him,” Bella stared dead ahead.

“What?”

“Yeah, he’s going to…well…” she decided against saying anything, realizing she didn’t know all the details, and she was still processing the emotions of all the words she did overhear.

“…we should go. We’re late to Lucy’s party and I have to stop at the store first and pick up something to bring.”

“I thought you said you didn’t have any money.”

“I didn’t. Mister Goth gave me some.”

“That man is Mortimer Goth!” Jennie squealed, and Bella realized she hadn’t told her best friend about the correspondence and suddenly wondered why she kept it hidden.

“Oh my gosh, Bella! You’re so lucky. He came all the way out here? I’ve heard his rich as Simdas or something.”

“It’s not about the money, Jen.”

“Sure, but it helps. Oooo… I wish I had met a rich, handsome guy in Sunset Valley,” Jennie began running her fingers all over the keys in no particular pattern, the notes clashing dramatically and echoing her frenzied excitement. “I’m sure everything will be fine. Your parents wouldn’t let him come if they didn’t think he was a good guy.”

“I guess,” Bella sighed. “Then why do I feel like my parents just sold me up a river?”

“Oh gosh,” Jennie gave a tinkling laugh. “Don’t be so dramatic, Bella. They wouldn’t do that.”

Bella hoped Jennie was right and she was wrong. As Jennie began playing an off-key rendition of the bridal processional, much to Bella’s chagrin, Bella began thinking the whole thing seemed ridiculous. Maybe she didn’t hear them correctly. Maybe they meant something else. But in her heart, she knew she was right.

Previous Chapter: Episode 4, Arrival 

Next Chapter: Episode 6, Family

Early Years, Episode 4: Arrival (LVB)

On a Saturday afternoon, Bella swayed as she stood before the mirror, admiring her appearance. The red skirt, black buckles, and silver spaghetti-strap top had been an excellent choice. She tucked a stray black hair over her ear, and wriggled her lower lip, puzzling over the potential rise of a pimple on her chin. Great! Just what I need! Bella had hoped her new dress would draw the attention of a certain red-haired older brother of her best friend. I want Danny to like me, she declared to herself.

As Bella poked around in her jewelry box, she nearly knocked it from the edge of the sink. She tried to decide the best piece to wear for the occasion. Her fingers found the heaviest item at the bottom, and she stopped, fingering the large metal watch. It was as if time stopped, despite the hands still ticking away. It had been a long time since she looked at this particular gift from a man whose life she saved one day at a beach in Sunset Valley.

Her parents had been furious upon finding out about the deliberately misleading vacation she and Jennifer took, however, upon hearing she had fished a Goth man out of the sea, they were more or less forgiving. She was still grounded for what felt like a century, and today was the first official party she was allowed to attend. She was going to make the most of it today. Bella placed Mortimer’s watch back in its place at the bottom of her jewelry box when she heard her father’s footsteps in the hallway. It hardly seemed appropriate to wear such a timepiece on the very day she would be seeing the man again for the first time in a year and four months. She didn’t want Mortimer to think she was sentimental.

“Daddy, please tell me you’re not wearing those God-awful white shoes!” Bella placed a hand on her hip and tapped the toe of her red high heel impatiently. “It looks so…retro…” she said, with disgust.

“Don’t say God awful, Bella,” her father chided. “God doesn’t want you to take his name in vain.”

Bella rolled her eyes. “I wasn’t…not really. It wasn’t like I said God damn it!”

Bella!” Simis said, sternly. “You know what your mother and I said about your language.”

“Sure,” Bella twisted her curls around her finger nonchalantly, secretly thinking the God of the universe should damn her father’s shoes. “I’ll be good, Daddy. I promise.” No one should be allowed to wear those shoes in public. 

“Now, your mother already asked you to stay a few minutes to meet Mr. Goth, right?” Simis said. “So I want you to be polite, okay?”

“Daddy! I will be polite,” Bella sighed. “Why is he coming here anyway?”

“He’s coming to meet your mother and I, and he wants to thank you,” Simis explained.

“But he didn’t have to fly all the way from Califorsimia to do that,” Bella shrugged, awkwardly, feeling uncomfortable about the prospect of meeting the man she had rescued from the ocean.

Truth be told, Bella had been corresponding with Mr. Mortimer Goth over the course of the year. Once he sent her the first letter, she felt an instant leap in her heart. An older, intelligent, accomplished, handsome, rich man was paying her mind, and she was flattered. Her letters were filled with mostly nonsense – who had gotten in trouble at her school, what the cafeteria lunches were like, how boring her father’s sermons were and her mother’s lectures on health and wellness, how her little brother kept stealing her nail polishes and stuffing them down the laundry chute, what she and Jennifer were doing on a Friday night, and how she had always wanted a cat. She was more than curious about his travels and all the exotic places he visited like Champs les Sims and Shang Simla and a place called Al Simhara in the Middle East.

Mortimer seemed to indulge her rants and asked her questions about her home, school, and church, wanting to know about her friends and family, and asking for reassurances that his watch was kept safe. Miraculously, after its trip to the sea, the timepiece had survived and was still ticking away. She had kept it hidden from her parents, as pure silver in the SimNation was rare to come by since the Silver Rush of the early 2300s. She was almost afraid they would take it away, either calling her a foolish sentimental or saying the gift was inappropriate.

“He’s here on business, and he wanted to stop by,” Simis replied. “So you will stand up straight, look him in the eye when you shake his hand, and answer any questions he might have. Okay, young lady?”

“Fine,” she purposely slouched. “But I can only stay ten minutes. Jennie is already waiting for me in the music room downstairs.”

“Your friend can wait, and this party can wait,” Simis said sternly. “Bella, Mr. Goth can make some incredible connections for you… for your future.”

“Right, right, right,” Bella waved her hands, impatiently. “I’ll talk with Mr. Goth if it will make you happy, but Daddy?” she wrinkled her nose. “You know I want to study fashion design, right? Why would I want to talk to a boring old businessman like Mr. Goth?”

“Bella, be respectful,” Simis reached out and straightened her shoulders. “You never know what kind of opportunities Mr. Goth will offer and you would be foolish not to accept…now…I need to go make sure I put the lawn mower away on the back lawn. Will you go check on your mother?”

“Sure, Daddy,” Bella clunked down the stairs behind her father.

While brewing the coffee for her guest, Jocasta stood in sad silence. She couldn’t recall ever feeling so defeated. If this didn’t work, they could lose the house. She might need to take a second job, and then she wouldn’t be home with the kids as much. If this didn’t work, they wouldn’t be able to send Bella to university, and they would have to sell the second car, and Michael might not be able to go to the dentist for braces. He would have crooked teeth for the rest of his life, all because his parents were drowning in debt. Jocasta hunched, pressing her palms into the counter, and heaved a shuddering sob.

“Mom! Are you okay?”

Jocasta’s eyes whipped to her son, bouncing into the kitchen with a concerned look on his face. He was supposed to have already left to go play at his friend’s house.

“Michael, you’re still here?” Jocasta said, quickly swiping at the tear in her eye corner. “Did your bicycle get a flat tire again?” she sighed.

One more thing to worry about… they couldn’t even afford new bike tires for their son.

“No, Mom,” he shook his head, walking around her as he opened the refrigerator and rifled through the items, and did not continue to think to re-inquire. “I just came to get a juice box before I biked over to Chandler’s.”

Whew! Jocasta rose and dropped her shoulders. Dodged a bullet there. She didn’t really want to have to explain to her son what was about to happen.

“It’s good to stay hydrated,” she said, trying to force a smile.

“Yeah, right,” he bobbed his head as he ripped the plastic from his straw, jammed it through the foil hole, and began slurping his juice loudly. “Bye Mom!” he waved.

“Have a good time, sweetheart,” she called after him.

“Oh and Mom?”

“Yes?”

“Don’t forget I’ve gotta get new pencils and a calculator for my upcoming school year,” he yelled.

“Don’t slam the…” Jocasta began, and then heard a familiar sound, and she jumped, startled, even though she knew it was coming.

New pencils and a calculator? Jocasta thought, worriedly, as she poured the freshly brewed coffee into ceramic mugs. Michael was about to start fifth grade at Jitmakusol Academy, and Bella would be leaving for Sim State University in a week. Jocasta didn’t have the heart to tell Michael that he would be transferring back to public school, especially after he had such a good year and he flourished in his classes after being removed from an environment where he had been bullied. Jocasta didn’t have the heart to tell Bella that she couldn’t follow her friends to college, and they instead needed her to stay in Pleasantview and get a job. As she set the empty coffee pot in the sink, Jocasta caught her reflection in the kitchen window. Oh! she touched her cheek. She would need to freshen up her face before Mortimer Goth arrived as the mascara stains under her eyes simply wouldn’t do. Hearing the doorbell ring, Jocasta called out.

“Bella? Are you down here? Could you get the door?”

Bella had followed her dad to the entryway, and he kissed her head before walking to the back door. She sighed as she saw Mortimer Goth coming down the sidewalk, reaching over his shoulder to press the button on his keys to lock his fancy black Arch Venus 9 convertible parked on the curb. Great! Bella rolled her eyes. The guy thinks he’s all that! It was a nice car, nonetheless. Mortimer took one step onto their walkway, and then turned and sneezed loudly. Bella covered her mouth to keep from giggling. You could hear that sneeze all the way over on the Simistral Coast. 

The man looked a bit preppy, not at all like the stuffy accountant Bella expected him to be, as he was dressed in gray dress slacks, a white collared shirt, blue-grey pullover sweater, and what appeared to be a blazer with a fraternity logo. Bella narrowed her eyes. How old is this guyAnd so many layers in the summer. She clicked her tongue. Evidently, the man was unaccustomed to the humidity of Misimigan. Too formal for my taste. 

Mortimer turned and his eyes looked straight at Bella. She gasped, and hopped to the side, wishing their entryway was larger so she could better hide. Suddenly, she felt self-conscious about meeting the man whom she rescued four months before. Bella wondered if he would stay long. She really wanted to get to Lucy Hanby’s house, to attend the high school party before her freshman year in college. University life promised plenty of parties and excitement of its own, but Bella wanted to enjoy her final days as a recent senior. It’s all downhill from here, right, she scratched the side of her face and then gasped, hoping she didn’t screw up her makeup.

Bella sincerely hoped he would forget all the silly nonsense she wrote in her letters. She didn’t want to appear to be a insignificant school girl. She was a high school graduate after all, heading for Sim State University in Neighborly City upstate. Bella puffed out her chest with pride, but quickly squashed her thoughts of accomplishment. Oh what if he mentions the letters to the parents? They didn’t know. Would they approve? Would they think it strange? Bella would much rather just be at the party with Danny and Jenni and the kids her own age. There was something about Mortimer that made her nervous while simultaneously flattered.

Here goes nothing, Bella flung open the door, shocking a nearby pigeon roosting on the fence and from the startled look on Mortimer’s face, Bella figured she had surprised him also.

“Hello, Mortimer,” she stretched out her hand to offer him a friendly shake.

That way I set the groundwork immediately. I am not interested in him romantically… well… maybe… those dimples are pretty adorable…oh shut up, Bella! 

“Well, now that’s a firm handshake,” he remarked.

“Too firm?” she winced, withdrawing her hand as she felt self-conscious.

“Not at all,” he smiled gently, leaning forward and kissing her knuckles and bringing shivers to her spine.

Bella flushed. Oh gawd! What if my parents see? 

“Please come in,” she cleared her throat and sauntered into the house, hoping no one saw Mortimer’s grand gesture.

“Bella, you didn’t tell us you rescued such a handsome gentleman,” Jocasta cooed.

Bella closed her eyes in humiliation. “Mom!” she sighed. “Mortimer, this is my mother, Jocasta Bachelor…” she gestured and then motioned to her father. “And her husband, Simis.”

“It is a pleasure to meet you both,” Mortimer shook both of her parents’ hands respectively. “I am grateful you invited me into your home.”

“The pleasure is ours,” Simis said, beaming with pride. “We are grateful you took the time in your busy schedule to meet with us.”

Bella resisted the urge to roll her eyes at her father’s intentional sucking-up.

“Thank you for coming,” Jocasta smiled. “We are glad you reached out to us. Bella has told us very little about your meeting. I trust you are fully recovered.”

“Mom’s a doctor,” Bella piped up, glancing at her fingernails.

“Yes,” Mortimer patted Jocasta’s hand. “Thanks to your beautiful daughter, I am safe and sound and still breathing,” he glanced over and winked at Bella, and she stepped back into the wall, feeling conspicuous.

Bella turned to her father, hoping she had stayed long enough. “I’m going to go grab my purse upstairs. Will you give me some money, Daddy? I’d like to pick up a bottle of soda for the party. I forgot it was potluck.”

“Could you pick something other than a sugary water beverage?” Simis said, disapprovingly.

“Bella,” Jocasta frowned. “You should still have money leftover from your allowance for those kinds of things.”

“But Mama,” Bella protested. “I had to catch a cab from the game the other day because…
she narrowed her eyes. “…you two forgot to pick me up.”

“Bella plays soccer,” Simis said, turning his attention to Mortimer. “She is the captain of her soccer team, but right now, she’s just playing intramurals until she goes off to university.”

“Daddy,” Bella lightly whacked her father in the stomach. “Please? The money?”

“Allow me,” Mortimer interjected, reaching for his wallet.

“Oh no, I couldn’t ask you to do that,” Simis shook his head, putting out his hand and laying it on the other man’s wrist.

“No, it’s my pleasure,” Mortimer smiled politely, handing Bella a ten-note. “Now you can buy ten sodas or something else if you wish.”

“Thank you,” Bella grinned, greedily grabbing the Simoleons from the older gentleman. “Now, Mama, tell Jennie I’ll be down in a minute. I want to grab my purse and a sweater in case it cools off this evening, and my new tube of lip gloss.”

With that, Bella bounced up the stairs, two at a time. Simis and Jocasta looked at Mortimer sheepishly.

“Sorry, teenage girls,” Simis chuckled weakly.

“It’s fine,” Mortimer lifted a hand. “I don’t mind.”

“Shall we?” Jocasta said, tilting her head to the dining room.

Previous Chapter: Episode 3, Breathless 

Next Chapter: Episode 5, Proposal

Early Years, Episode 3: Breathless (LVB)

Even with the afternoon suddenly turning dreary, Bella was having the best time on her secret vacation to Sunset Valley. When the rain began to fall, she felt so invigorated by each droplet that she stayed in the bay. She still had time before she needed to return to the hotel to shower and change for their dinner reservation at Le Coriscan Bistro. The desk clerk said it was the best restaurant in town.

The ocean glittered in the distance, like a faint gem sparkled. Its waves lulled about sleepily and the white foam buzzed on the crest before it frothed over into a full-blown crash. She tugged her straps tighter as the wind picked up, hoping she hadn’t already worn out another bathing suit. The salty air soothed her skin, and she drank in every drop, feeling more alive than she had ever felt before. All she could see was miles and miles of water and gorgeous little coves hugging the shoreline. The only sounds occupying the space were her slight disturbances of surface with her arms and the plink-plonk-plink of the raindrops and the splish-splosh-splash of the ocean all around her. That is until… she heard a man scream and the terrifying sound of dead weight breaking the surface tension. Bella whipped her gaze around in all directions, first looking farthest into the ocean and then back to the beach and then out to the inlet. She squinted her eyes as she heard what sounded like choking and gagging.

“Oh sweet Jesus,” she exclaimed, hoping she could figure out the direction of the drowning man.

Bella squeezed her eyes shut, invoking something her parents had always told her not to. They said that it was from the devil. They said it would do more harm than good. They said it was dangerous. She had no choice. Someone was dying. She could feel his blood flowing through his veins, and she winced. The feeling was unpleasant and it had been a long time since she could feel the life energy of another human being. A normal being shouldn’t be able to feel a life force slipping away into oblivion. Bella knew that. Then again, she wasn’t fully Sim.

Bella exhaled, and sent a high-pitched cry across the water, much too high for the drowning human to hear. As she closed her eyes, she could see a map of the ocean and waves of light. She followed the light paths with her mind and she could see his skeleton hand waving above the water before disappearing below the waters again. When she opened her eyes again, they glowed – two little beacons of light in the fog-enshrouded bay. She found him. Her heart beat quickly as she swam in his direction.

“I’m coming,” she yelled, swimming in the direction of the waving hand still above the surface.

Her ears were still ringing from the sound she made, and only she could hear it, but she traced the pathways of light, only visible to herself, and tried to ignore the impending headache. At one point, the sound grew so loud, she found herself wincing and swimming off-track as she rubbed the sides of her skull and willed herself forward. Must keep going… she grunted.

When she reached the location, Bella noticed the appeared to be floating down toward jagged rocks, a hidden reef. She hardly gasped for breath before diving down to reach the man she had noticed earlier from the beach. He was sinking, his body limp, his eyes closed. Bella prayed fiercely that she was not too late. She recalled half the Lord’s Prayer, the one her father read every Sunday from the pulpit. She reached for the words of an Af’simican spiritual poem her mother quoted, and repeated the only phrase she knew, “from the waters, come life.” She remembered snippets of a song, Amazing Grace, the hymn most often sung at funerals.

No one is dying today, she thought with angry determination as she pummeled through the waves, stretching out her arm hoping to grasp his hand. She managed to slip her arms around his waist and tugged him from the jaws of death, the ragged rocks of the reef, towing him to life.

His limp body broke through the water first, and Bella gasped for air as her head hovered over the surface. They were hit with a wave careening toward the shoreline, and she gasped as the saltwater stung her eyes, nose, and mouth. She frowned, wondering why when she was underwater it was easier to see, to think, to maneuver.

Bella leaned her ear against the man’s chest, hearing the beat of his heart, albeit faint. He was still breathing. She sighed, a momentary reprieve, and braced as another wave assaulted their bodies. His head tipped down, a heavy weight wanting to return to a watery grave. She gripped tighter, holding the unconscious man against her side, as they bobbed in and out of the surf.

What could he have been doing out here!? she wondered, and checked his person to be certain he was not bleeding. She ascertained that he had no visible blood, bumps, or bruises. Satisfied, she fixed her hold, allowing the current to push them in the direction of the beach.

Bella collapsed into the sand, exhausted from hauling a grown man’s body through the water. Fire flowing through her tendons, and every muscle cried out for mercy. She lay face up, the man, still unconscious beside her in the sand, as the rainwater plinked against their skin, offering fresh reprieve after the possibility of a saltwater grave. Bella closed her eyes tiredly, laying a hand across her lower abdomen and sighed. I shouldn’t have been able to do that, she thought in bewilderment.

When the man stirred, Bella quickly sat up and twisted, turning her back to the ocean as she asked him if he was all right.

“I’m sorry, I should’ve called for help,” she murmured softly, bracing against the sand.

“Help?” he repeated weakly. “You…” he lifted his hulking arm and intertwined his fingers in her hair. “…are…my…angel…” he strained each word.

Bella flushed, averting her eyes. “I just did what was needed. Are you okay? How are you feeling? What were you doing out there?”

He squinted his eyes as if thinking pained him, and Bella felt guilty, but she needed to keep the man awake.

“My watch…” he pointed to his wrist weakly. “I was…getting my… watch.”

“In this weather?” Bella’s eyes widened. “You went to rescue your watch?”

He closed his eyes once more, and murmured, “La vie en rose.”

“The song?” Bella squeezed his hand, hoping he wouldn’t lose consciousness again. “Hey, stay awake. You gotta stay awake. Tell me your name. Hey, tell me your name…” Bella laid her hands against his soft sandkissed cheeks when he appeared to be drifting. “Tell me about your watch,” she said, desperation creeping into her tone as his head fell back against the beach and she lifted him up into her lap.  “Tell me…anything…”

When you speak…” he began, his eyes still shut. “…angels sing from above.”

Bella frowned. Was he delirious? He was quoting La Vie En Rose again.

“Mortimer,” he said, his voice barely above a whisper. “My name is…Mortimer… Goth…” he gasped his last name as he strained to lift himself, but his elbows wobbled.

“Mortimer…hi…I’m Bella Bachelor,” she introduced herself as she helped stabilize his weight and laid his head back down. “Lie still, Mortimer. I’ll go get help.”

“No! Don’t leave me,” he begged.

“But I need to get help,” she protested. “I don’t know if you hit your head or not.”

“Bella?” he asked, a confused look in his eyes.

“Yes?”

“…sing to me,” he requested, returning her hand squeeze, a salty tear splashing down his face. “I think… I could feel my legs… if you sing to me...” he began shivering.

Bella closed her eyes, willing herself to be brave as she very softly began singing the words to her favorite song.

“Hold me close and hold me fast
This magic spell you cast
This is la vie en rose

When you kiss me heaven sighs
And though I close my eyes
I see la vie en rose.

When you press me to your heart
I’m in a world apart
A world where roses bloom…” 

Bella didn’t even grunt as she lifted a man twice her size, and he wrapped his arms around her neck almost instinctively. While she wondered about her newfound super strength, she was more concerned about getting him to safety. A lifeguard came running over the hillside, shouting for their attention, and Bella walked in his direction.

“Hello!” the lifeguard exclaimed. “Are you two all right? Is anyone hurt?”

The lifeguard pulled the man from her arms, and Bella’s knees buckled and she fell to the sand, but not from strain, from the sudden transference of weight. The lifeguard dropped a hand to her shoulder, and she shook her head, looking at the ground.

“I’m okay,” she lifted her eyes. “Please…see that he gets to a hospital.”

“Bella?” Mortimer called out for her as the lifeguard began to carry him away.

He stretched out his hand as she stood.

“Bella, ride with me,” he pleaded.

She looked at the lifeguard, and he shrugged. Bella gathered her wet things from the shore and hurried to keep up with the men.

“Bella?” Mortimer said, once he was settled on a stretcher and the paramedics were loading him into the ambulance.

“I know,” she replied softly, lowering her eyes as she sensed his thoughts.

“Please finish the song,” he asked aloud as if unaware that she knew.

Mortimer looked white as a sheet as a paramedic placed an oxygen mask over his mouth and told him to breathe normally. He squeezed her hand as if his life depended upon it, and she decided to send soothing thoughts into his veins to calm his heart rate. She hoped the medical professionals did not notice, but none of them seemed concerned by her presence. Though self-conscious, Bella decided to oblige amid the tubes and cords, amid the scent of ammonia and latex, amid the sound of the tires pulling away from the curb and the siren piercing through the rainy night. Bella opened her mouth and sang,

And when you speak, angels sing from above
Everyday words seem to turn into love songs

Give your heart and soul to me
And life will always be la vie en rose.”

Previous Chapter: Episode 2, Saltwater and Sunshine 

Next Chapter: Episode 4, Arrival 

Early Years, Episode 2: Saltwater and Sunshine (LVB)

“I wonder who lives up there.”

Jennifer intently stared at the mansion at the top of the Califorsimian cliffs while Bella arranged her Freezer Bunny beach towel on the sand, making sure the placement was just right so she could gain the perfect tan. The girls had driven out to Sunset Valley for spring break. Somehow, Bella had convinced Jenni to tell her parents they were in Sim City for a school trip, and somehow Jenni had talked Bella out of ditching and dropping out of school. The girls would be back one day before the end of break, and Bella had already had brochures of all the major museums express-shipped to a post office box she rented for the week, and then she edited pictures of Jenni and herself on her computer in front of prominent tourist attractions in the Sim Nation capitol. Her parents would never know.

“Isn’t this sunshine divine?” Bella murmured, kneeling on the soft sand.

“Wouldn’t you like to live in a house like that?” Jenni replied, seemingly unaware of her friend’s question. “I mean, a mansion looking out over the Simistral Ocean. We don’t have anything like that in Pleasantview.”

“Come on, Jenni, quit gawking and lay out with me,” Bella rolled her eyes. “We can’t afford a house like that.”

“Someday, maybe,” Jenni shrugged, plopping down in the sand in an unladylike fashion. “When we’re both lawyers and making buku bucks.”

Bella scowled and turned her face away as she laid her chin on her folded arms, feeling the sun rays already warming her exposed back. She wasn’t sure she wanted to be a lawyer like her father wanted her to be or a doctor like her mother desired. Instead, she liked the idea of lounging all day by the saltwater shores, sipping Simsmapolitans.

“I’ve been thinking about fashion,” she remarked, casually.

“What about it?” Jenni asked, wrinkling her nose as she rubbed sunscreen onto her skin. “You already have the best fashion sense of anyone in our class.”

“Yeah, I was thinking about design or modeling maybe… the next Coco Simel,” Bella said, half-jokingly, half-seriously.

“But who would quiz me on LSAT facts?” Jenni wailed. “Oh shoot!” she added, having accidentally smudged sunscreen too close to her mascara-laden lashes. “Hold up…” she stood up and raced off toward the little bathroom hut to wash out her eye.

While Bella lounged, more people descended onto the beach. She had asked the hotel desk clerk about the hot spots for visiting college co-eds, and was told Sunnyside Strand was one of the best beaches in the city. After about a half-hour, a young lady began strumming island favorites and love songs away on her guitar. Several college students played horse in the water, splashing each other around while trying to maintain a firm grip on their red plastic party cups. Others set up a volleyball net and began bouncing and bopping a ball around in their bikinis and swim trunks. Even members of the press showed up, claiming a brief interview would award discounted beer. Jenni curiously and courageously decided to go for it, having already drank about a quart of liquor from their hotel mini fridge. She returned only after a few moments.

“What happened?” Bella inquired, flipping over onto her stomach.

“It was lame,” Jenni laid on her towel. “The lady was interviewing college students on spring break, and she wanted to see my ID before she would give me a coupon for the Fishbowl.”

“What kinds of questions were they asking?” Bella wondered.

“Oh… this and that…what school you were from… why you came to Califorsimia… some of your favorite places…I guess the Sunset City News is doing a puff piece on best places to visit and such,” Jenni explained. “I’ve never seen a reporter write such furious notes before though. I wonder if it is really just about that kind of crap.”

“Who knows?” Bella shrugged, propping herself up by her elbows.

She found herself wondering about the inhabitants of the beach, how many of them had family in the area, how many were visiting Califorsimia for the first time like she was, how many actually cared that the swimsuit-clad musician was playing the same song again for the third time. She perked when she heard a male voice request one of her favorite songs.

“Oh I don’t do requests,” the woman replied with a light laugh.

Bella scrunched her nose, peering out across the sand. Then why are you playing on a crowded beach, lady? 

“Please, I’m having the worst day, and that song always makes me feel better,” the man replied.

Bella’s face softened into a smile. His favorite song? Aw…. she better play it. 

“What do I look like a jukebox?” the lady chortled.

Rude, Bella thought, flicking a small crab away from her beach towel.

“How about if I give you a tip?” the man asked, pulling his wallet out of his swim trunks.

“Naw… I already told you…” the woman shook her head.

“…not even for five hundred Simoleons?”

Bella was pretty sure the woman’s jawline matched her own. She gasped. For five hundred Simos, she would get up there and sing the song to the man. The lady conceded and within a moment, she was playing the requested song, even after all her protests.

That’s how you get a job done, Bella thought with a grin, enjoying the music as she crossed her ankles and bobbed her feet in time. The gentleman turned and she could see his face for the first time. Even from a distance, she could tell he was a better-than-average-looking man with his fierce jawline and neat sideburns matching his rather unkempt black hair. Bella didn’t mind. Her own black hair was quite unruly, and something about the softness of his expression intrigued her. She wished she could see his eyes, but the sun was making it difficult to see nearly fifty yards away. The lady guitarist was actually quite good, and Bella found herself transported away into La Vie En RoseAh! To see the world through rose-colored classes. 

“I’m roasting. Let’s go swim,” Jenni suggested, leaping to her feet.

“Five more minutes,” Bella said lazily, flipping to her back, and shading her eyes from the sun.

“Come on…get in the water, you big chicken!” Jenni teased, racing down to the water.

“Coming…” Bella replied, though she couldn’t help but take one last look at the guy who had captured her attention.

Jenni was already thigh-deep in the ocean when Bella arrived at water’s edge. She took a big breath and plunged in, completely submerging beneath the incoming surf.

“No fair!” Jenni exclaimed, racing out to where Bella had swam.

“If you dive in, you’ll adjust to the temperature faster,” Bella suggested. “It’s much colder than Lake Misimigan.”

Dunking under the water, Jenni soon surpassed her friend, but Bella was taking every nanosecond in and appreciating everything as she glided through the soothing waters. Everything about this place made Bella feel alive and happy. Even the seagull soaring by made her smile. We don’t have seagulls at the lake, she thought.

“I expected it to be bigger,” Bella said, stopping by her friend as they tread water.

“We’re in the Bay, silly,” Jenni teased.

“I know,” Bella laughed, splashing her friend. “So do you regret coming?”

“Uh uh,” Jenni shook her head and giggled.

They played in the water until the spring sunshine slid in between the encroaching clouds. A mystical fog spread its arms across the oceans and encircled the girls as they giggled and talked on a perfect afternoon.

“We should probably head back,” Jenni said, turning toward the shore.

“I think I might stay awhile longer,” Bella said.

“Girl, you shouldn’t be out here in the ocean by yourself,” Jenni said worriedly.

“I’ll be fine. I’m a strong swimmer. I’ll meet you back at the hotel,” Bella insisted.

“Alright,” Jenni turned and began swimming away before turning back and shouting, “Hang loose!”

“What?” Bella laughed.

“Hang loose… or whatever it is they say in Califorsimia,” Jenni explained.

“Silly, I’m going to drink up more sunshine and saltwater,” Bella stretched her arms toward the heavens, welcoming the cool breeze as the waves picked up speed.

Her heart couldn’t be more joyous.

Previous Chapter:  Episode 1, The Plan 

Next Chapter: Episode 3, Breathless

Early Years, Episode 1: The Plan (LVB)

“You’re what?”

The orange glow of the setting sun outlined Jennifer Pleasant’s slender face as her hand came to mouth like a magnetized pole, trying to cover her gaping jaw. She stood, motionless, waiting for her teammate to retrieve her words and say she was joking, but Bella looked scarily serious. The last of afternoon sports practices had finished, and the girls were hanging out on the football field as usual to watch the “cute” guys pack up their things. Bella Bachelor had approached her closest and dearest friend, hoping for a sympathetic response. Instead, she was met with a blank, judgmental stare.

“Have a good night, girls,” their Poràdàn soccer coach, Ms. Medeiros, waved goodbye, completely unaware of the serious conversation between the two high school juniors.

“Good night, Coach Medeiros,” Bella returned the wave pleasantly.

Jennifer managed to close her mouth, turn, and smile politely, before whipping her attention back to her best friend. Bella had a smug grin on her face, satisfied with the plans she already made in her mind.

“Don’t you ever do anything crazy?” Bella asked energetically.

She knew it was probably hopeless to convince Jenni. The pretty, petite, co-captain of the varsity girls soccer team was one of the most levelheaded people she knew, but the occasionally impulsive side of her made Bella believe maybe she could convince her. Typically if Bella came up with a wild idea, Jenni would be the one to talk her out of it, or at least rationalize with her, and come up with a better planned. The dark-skinned beauty was excellent at making pro-con lists and deciphering the quickest route to the mini mart, but when it came to plunging head first into a new project or showing up fashionably late to a crazy party or cutting school and take off on a day trip with little warning, Bella was the one to take the lead.

Somehow the term stereotypical “preacher’s kid rebel” fit Bella like a latex glove in a medical office. Bella didn’t want anyone to think she wasn’t fun or that she didn’t have a sense of humor or she never wanted to test the boundaries. Bella would travel all the way to the stars, drink a six-pack on the tip of Luna, and come back on a school day instead of taking a boring biology test or sitting through one of the dean’s latest lectures about her living up to her potential if she could. She understood why Jenni would try and talk her out of her latest brilliant idea. What she didn’t understand was why her friend seemed to think this was anything out of the ordinary.

“Yeah, but I was thinking more along the lines of experimenting with ice cream flavors at Main Street Grocer’s,” Jenni yanked Bella’s arm, jerking her out of the way of a group of skateboarders whizzing by.

“Whoo!” Bella pumped the air with her fist. “Looking good, Orlando!” she whistled at the tanned high school transfer from Osimceana.

The boy grinned, turned around and fake-tipped his baseball cap which was conveniently backward before pumping his foot on the ground to catch up with his friends.

“Bella,” Jenni gasped. “Orlando Centowski is constantly in detention. Why would you want to go out with that loser from Queenstown?”

“Because he’s dreamy,” Bella sighed, purposely focusing her gaze on the senior boy’s rear end as he skated off into the distance, before turning back to Jenni and narrowing her eyes mischievously. “And trouble.”

With a capital T,” Jenni stomped her soccer cleat to emphasize her point.

That rhymes with P that stands for pool!” Bella shouted, exasperated, throwing her arms up in the air. “Oh I know. My mother quotes that at me all the time… as if playing pool is the worst thing in the world and leads to sex, drugs, and rock and roll. And one beer isn’t going to kill me.”

“Juice will ruin your mind, Bella,” Jenni clucked her tongue.

“Don’t worry, Jenni,” Bella shrugged. “I really prefer the finer things in life… like nectar… and…” her eyes swept to the distant skateboarders. “And Orlando can’t buy me all the gold I want anyway since he’s on parole…” she giggled.

“What? No diamonds?” Jenni snorted sarcastically.

“My dear Jennifer,” Bella interlocked arms with her friends as they walked to pick up their bags. “Diamonds are a blood trade.”

“And gold isn’t?” Jenni arched a brow. “Aren’t they all?”

“Maybe,” Bella shrugged, nonchalantly draping her gym bag over her shoulder. “…but I’d feel better not supporting a dirty trade from Danny’s home country.”

“I’m sure my bro appreciates that,” Jenni leaned into her friend, playfully.

While there was eleven months between them, Jennifer and Daniel acted more like twins than adopted siblings. The three of them had been tight since second grade. Danny had needed to repeat the grade because he had spent the first years of his life in South Af’simica. At first, he was embarrassed by this, but then he came to realize sharing a class with his newly adopted sister meant access to Jennifer’s very pretty best friend. Danny had been crushing on Bella for almost ten years now, and she still enjoyed teasing him along, despite the fact that neither of them had officially asked the other one out.

“So what do you think of my idea?” Bella changed the subject, and by the look on Jenni’s face, she could tell her friend was not pleased. “Come on, Jenni. We’re so beyond this place. This is my big chance to see the world, to explore new heights, to cross oceans.”

“You’re wanting to go to Califorsimia. How is that crossing the ocean?” Jenni frowned.

“I want to see the ocean for starters,” Bella said dramatically. “I want to meet new people and try new foods and stay out all night.”

“Don’t you do that already?” Jenni rolled her eyes.

“I want to be a hippie and live on the beach and stay in the sand all day and swim in the waters and fish for our dinner,” Bella replied, ignoring her friend’s comment. “I want to sleep under the stars and not have to worry about language arts papers or PE credits or sitting through stupid assemblies.”

“Are you out of your mind?” Jenni asked, lowering her voice as an assistant coach walked by. “Why do you have to drop out of school for this? Summer is coming up and we can just go and spend the summer on the coast. I’m sure our parents will be okay with that.”

“I don’t want to wait,” Bella shook her head. “This is the prime of our lives and we’re wasting it in classes all day when we could be out there enjoying ourselves. Come on don’t you want to road trip? I’ve always wanted to road trip. And we could be our own bosses, and the masters of our own schedules… well…” she made a face. “…mistresses of our own schedules.”

Jenni looked as though she was trying not to laugh.

“If it bothers you that much, just take a year off, and when we come back, you can return to school.”

“But we’re minors, Bella,” Jenni protested. “Our parents will never let us go, and truancy officers will make sure we stay in school.”

“Not if they can’t find us,” Bella grinned, reaching in her pocket. “I got us fake IDs. You can be…” she held up the card and squinted as she read. “…Eleanor Rigby. And I can be Maggie May.”

“Aren’t those British Invasion songs?” Jenni grimaced.

“Exactly.”

“But Eleanor Rigby died in a church and was buried with her name. Why do I get the depressing Miss Lonely Hearts and you get a song about an sexy glamorous older woman?”

“Because… that’s just what they made me.”

Jenni sounded less than convinced. “Named after characters in ancient pop songs from Earth? Really?”

Bella pumped her fist into the sky with a big grin. “British Invasion lives on forever! But really? Who’s going to know?” she used her hand to muffle the little giggle escaping her lips.

“This is insane, Bella. It will never work!” Jenni disagreed.

“Okay, we don’t have to take a whole year, just an extended spring break,” Bella offered. “My parents think I’m going on a school trip to District of Simlumbia, and by the time they figure it out, we’ll be long gone. We can stay the summer and then come back. I already took my finals early so I don’t think they can fail me if I passed them all already.”

“You did what? I didn’t even know you could do that,” Jenni’s eyes opened wide, as she took a step back in shock.

Bella shrugged. “You can do it if you want.”

“Bella… I know you’re a genius and you think you’re too cool for school. But I can’t miss classes. I won’t be a senior next year if I just take off. I won’t graduate. If I don’t graduate, I won’t get into law school. We want to go to law school still, right?” Jenni almost looked like she was about to cry. “Top firms aren’t going to want lazy high school dropouts.”

“I’m not talking about forever. Plenty of students take time off…” Bella sighed.

“Yeah but for good reasons…”

Jennifer’s words hung harshly in the air. Bella flushed. Her friend could be unintentionally cruel sometimes. Bella always knew Jenni was blunt and honest to a fault, but now when she was trying to explain her plans to one of her closest friends, Bella felt Jenni was callously misunderstanding her and criticizing her ideas.

“I just…need a break…okay?” Bella said, exasperated. “I just… I can’t….deal right now. I need to clear my head.”

“Yeah well most people do that with a box of chocolates and a bubble bath,” Jenni said, softening her tone.

“You know what? Whatever,” Bella threw her hands in the air, dropping her bag, and racing out of the school stadium.

“Bella!” Jenni called, but Bella had no desire to return to her friend’s side.

Running across the grass, Bella turned and crunched across the sand toward Lake Misimigan. Jenni may have been co-captain, but Bella always knew she was the faster runner. She figured after she was halfway across that she was probably alone, and she dropped and clutched her knees, breathing heavily. The cool mid-spring air felt nice against her flushed cheeks, and Bella could see the first stars of the night pop into view between wisps of evening clouds.

She knew about her parents money troubles. They tried to keep their disagreements quiet, but after Michael, her little brother was in bed, and Bella was supposedly situated at her desk completing her homework, she could hear Simis and Jocasta arguing in the library or living room downstairs. Between her mother’s student loans for medical school and her father’s low-paying clergyman work, they were barely making ends meet. Bella figured she wouldn’t be able to afford university at this rate anyhow so it was better to just leave. One less mouth to feed, right? 

“There’s gotta be more to this life,” Bella said aloud, in dismay.

The hazy blue-violet waters of Lake Misimigan appeared to go on forever, but as Bella squinted, she could see the shores of Simnadia in the near distance. Stupid! Bella kicked a rock with her shoe, feeling the sharp prod against her toe. Great! Bella glanced and realized she tore a hole in yet another pair of soccer cleats. Jennifer didn’t understand. Jenni’s father was a SIMSA engineer and pilot and he made enough money so that Jenni’s mom didn’t need to work. Jenni and Danny were guaranteed a collegiate education. Even with Bella’s grades and athleticism, she wasn’t sure she would get a full scholarship. I guess I’ll have to rely on my good looks, Bella chuckled wryly.

“Bella?”

Jenni called out to her friend, hesitantly as she approached, and placed a hand tentatively on Bella’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry if I made you mad,” Jenni sighed.

Bella grunted, and folded her arms across her chest.

“Have you tried praying?” Jenni asked, quietly.

“It doesn’t work,” Bella replied coldly.

“Oh, but it does,” Jenni said, her eyes widening. “Your dad preaches about it all the time, Bella, you should know.”

Bella wondered how the two girls could be best friends, and still, it felt as though Jenni didn’t know Bella at all sometimes.

“Padre hears your prayers, Bella. Maybe you should try praying,” Jenni continued.

“And what? Ask Padre to give me whatever the hell I want?” Bella snapped.

“Well…” Jenni bit her lower lip. “What do you want?”

My parents to stop fighting? My family to have money? To not be in that stupid-ass school? To get off this freaking planet? To not be cursed with a pretty face and feel like every guy wants to get into my pants? Jenni, you have no clue do you? 

Jenni had asked the question seriously, but Bella hardly knew how to give a serious answer aloud that wouldn’t alienate or confuse her friend. She didn’t really know what she wanted. That was why she wanted to leave.

“Just do me a favor. Think about it,” Bella brushed by her friend. “…I’m leaving Sunday morning before dawn.”


Author Note: Welcome to La Vita Bella, the first official chapter of the Bella Bachelor Goth story. If you haven’t already, there are two previous chapters (preludes) to this series – The Last Night of Bella Goth and 100 Years. In my Sim world, Jennifer (Jenni) and Daniel Pleasant are siblings, but Daniel (Danny) was adopted from South Af’simica. While they are both in the same grade, Danny is 11 months older than Jenni. Shannon Medeiros is actually a Sim coach from TS2 at Sim State University, although she is an elder in TS2. I just borrowed the name for the girls’ soccer coach. Poràdàn  is a person from Empordà, if you remember correctly. I know spring is the wrong season for soccer, but since we’re on another planet, I figured who cares? They could have different sports seasons. Orlando Centowski is also a Sim in TS2, a teen living in Pleasantview, and I decided he was from the land down under… Queenstown, Osimceana a.k.a. Australia/New Zealand. For those of you who like musicals, hope you liked my little reference. 😉 British Invasion…couldn’t help myself… the Beatles… because Simtannican Invasion just didn’t sound right. SIMSA is my Simworld version of NASA – the Sim Space Agency. Padre is the name used for the Peteran God. I hope you enjoyed.

Previous Chapter: Prologue, Part 2: 100 Years 

Next Chapter: La Vita Bella, Episode 2, Saltwater and Sunshine

 

 

1.41 Troubles Will Be Miles Away (FRWL)

Author Note: This is the last chapter of From Riverview, With Love. I really hope you enjoyed Gage’s journey from summer until winter. This is a bittersweet moment for me as Gage has grown to be a very special character of mine. I am sad to finish, but it is time, and I’m ready to move onto additional Sim story projects that need completion. Without further adieu, the final chapter.


As the taxi zigzagged through Riverview,Gage struggled to gain control over his emotions. He had just lost his best friend, probably for good, because he just couldn’t bring himself to hug her. He knew she was devastated. At least, she wanted to be his friend. Gage wasn’t sure he could do that. If he couldn’t be with her, he didn’t want to be in her life. It was too painful.

The music played from the stereo, and Gage found the lyrics ironic.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
From now on, our troubles will be out of sight
Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Make the Yuletide gay
From now on, our troubles will be miles away

“I wish,” Gage grumbled.

“I’m sorry, sir, what did you say?” the driver inquired, with a thick Championne accent.

“Nothing,” Gage replied.

I could’ve flown to Champs les Sims for the new year with Kassiopeia instead of being in Riverview to get that phone call. Gage bopped himself in the head. You idiot! Be real! He knew he had to face the consequences of his actions. The driver had to back up and try and get around another route when they ran into the new year’s day parade in downtown Riverview.

“Sorry sir,” he mumbled with a thick Championne accent.

“No worries,” Gage folded his arms over his chest and slouched.

He didn’t have to be at the Simcago Metropolitan Airport until three p.m., but he didn’t want to wait around the house after the way he had left things with Kass. He figured it was best he left immediately. She didn’t love him anyway.

Here we are as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us once more
Through the years we all will be together
If the fates allow
So hang a shining star upon the highest bough
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now

“Oh pull over,” he grunted to the driver.

“Sure, right away, sir,” the driver mumbled, turning the wheel to the side and pulling along the side of the curb outside the Riverwalk Park. “Do you want me to wait?”

“Do what you want!” Gage snipped, throwing the guy a twenty Simoleon note and slamming the car door.

“But sir!” the man called, but Gage didn’t bother to wait.

He had to get out of the confined space. He had to think and clear his head. He had to get away from the words, “have yourself a merry little Christmas…” repeating over and over again.

“Gah!” Gage yelled as he kicked a black metal trash receptacle out of frustration.

Everything had been so perfect. He leaned his head back, and closed his eyes, feeling soft snowflakes fall on his face. He lifted his arms, opening himself to the universe. Why? he cried internally. Why, damnit! Why! Somehow he knew why. He knew the logistics of the matter. Boy meets girl. Boy is drunk. Girl is drunk. Boy and girl sleep together. Boy and girl make a baby. But what he didn’t understand was how his heart kept getting trampled. There was only so much he could manage to bear.

Gage plopped onto a frozen winter bench, spotting the taxi along the curb. The guy hadn’t driven away, and he figured it was because Gage’s luggage was in the trunk. It’s just stuff, he shrugged. It didn’t matter. Stuff was replaceable. Family? Love? That wasn’t. Living in foster care for as long as he did, growing up in the system, Gage knew that at a moments notice, he might have to move and so he had let go of stuff for the most part… until recently. With Anita, he had the promise of a lover, a potential future wife, and a home, but she had to go to Simspania and he didn’t resent her for leaving. Kass, on the other hand, nothing was ever for sure with her. It was part of what made her exciting, Gage figured as he wiggled his feet, his legs buried in snow up to his mid shin. She was here one day, in the moment, and then gone the next, as if she couldn’t make up her mind about him. He knew exactly how he felt about Kassiopeia, but he knew, somehow he knew, deep in his heart, she didn’t know and she didn’t feel the same way.

Natalya didn’t want him. Lakshmi wasn’t an option. Soléi didn’t want him. Heather didn’t want him. Cerise wasn’t an option. Nalea didn’t want him. Anita did want him, but he didn’t want her in the same way. It was as if the universe was paying him back ten-fold for his mistakes, and for his inability to commit to a single woman, even though he had desperately wanted to.

 

Gage?”

He could hear her voice, but his face was focused upon the snow-covered plants before his eyes. He was wishing he could melt right into the ground as if he had never existed.

“Gage?”

He heard his name repeated, and he choked back a cry.

“Oh, I’m delusional,” he rubbed the back of his head.

“I seriously hope not,” came the reply. “Or I’ll have to drive you to the emergency room.”

Gage looked up at Constance, his face flushing a thousand shades of red.

“Oh…er…uh…sorry… I was in my head,” he stammered.

“Aren’t we all?” she teased lightly. “But I know what you mean.”

“Leaving town?” she inquired.

Gage snapped his eyes to Constance as she sat on the bench, his hands raising slightly on his legs. How does she do that? Like read my mind? 

“How did you know?” he asked.

“Oh… I saw you stomp out of the taxi, kick the trash can, and sit your butt down on this freezing cold bench just to brood,” she replied. “I’m not judging. I’ve done it too.”

“You saw that?” he winced. “Ugh… yeah… I’m having a bad day. But I don’t know how that equates to leaving town.”

“Because I did the same thing before I left Riverview for the first time,” Constance replied.

He arched a brow. “Oh? Really?”

“Yeah… I was…brokenhearted. A guy I cared deeply about told me that he didn’t care for me in the same way and I hopped in a taxi determined to leave town before I got so frustrated about being trapped inside a vehicle that I leaped out and ran around the park for a few hours,” Constance admitted, almost humorously. Only difference is I was in the main square and I’m sure about a dozen and a half people saw my tirade against the wall adverts on the side of EverFresh Delight Supermarket and a couple kicks to the trash cans,” Constance laughed wryly. “And… I think I scared a few pigeons.”

Gage gave her a half-smile. So her circumstances weren’t all that different from his own, except for one glaring thing.

“So why are ya leaving?” she asked, interlocking her fingers behind her head.

“Your pants… they’re getting stained…” he glanced at the snow, avoiding the question.

“Aw…nuts…well, I’m used to it,” Constance leaned forward and looked before returning to a relaxed position. “I’ve got more dress pants at my house. So tell me… what’s sending you running away from Riverview?”

“I’m not running away!” he yelled. “I have to leave…” he felt a sharp stab in his heart at the pain of saying the words aloud. “I don’t have a choice.”

Constance puzzled for a moment. “You always have a choice.”

“But I don’t. I don’t, Constance, you don’t understand. I wished to know how to please women, and I got plenty of women. I wished to be irresistible and I was. I wished for a home and a family, and I got the home part, and I’m getting a family. But I didn’t realize that by wishing for that, I might actually get what I wished for, and it might not be in the way I expected,” Gage lamented. “All I wanted was to be happy and to have a place of my own and people to love me. Isn’t that what everyone wants?”

“I finally had a house. I had the love of my life. I was happy for a moment. And then I found out I’m going to be a dad. A woman I was with at the beginning of summer is pregnant,” Gage confessed. “There are consequences for everything, aren’t there, Constance?”

“Well, it depends. Do you view this as a consequence or a blessing?” she asked.

“I want to do the right thing. I need to go to her. I want to take care of this child because I know what it’s like to feel…unwanted…” he chewed his lower lip. “…but it just comes at the worst time. I finally had Kass and now I’ve lost her.”

Constance sat still, appearing to contemplate what he had said.

“I’m thinking maybe I should call every woman I ever slept with and make sure I don’t have any more surprise kids,” he chuckled wryly.

“Are you okay?” she asked, surprising him.

He had half-expected condemnation or pity, but instead she seemed genuinely concerned.

“I think so… I will be…Oh I don’t know. I’m going to be a dad. I have to go back home and face the music. What am I saying? Go back home?” he threw his hands in the air. “This is my home now, or so I thought. I haven’t been back to Sunset Valley since July of last year. I so badly wanted to make this place my home and now I’m forced to leave it and everyone I love here behind. And I wanted a home so badly and a family, but not like this.”

“Home is where the heart is,” Constance said softly.

“What?” he blinked rapidly.

“Your heart…” she leaned forward and laid her palm against his chest, and he was afraid she could feel the pounding and sense every bit of his emotional distraught. “…your home is where your heart is. If your ex-girlfriend or whomever is having a baby, then your family and home are with them.”

“It’s not that simple,” he grunted.

“Yes, yes it is,” Constance stated purposefully. “The baby’s heart is beating because of you, because of an intentional decision you made, but this doesn’t have to be a negative consequence. It only is if you view it that way. A baby, a new life, is a beautiful blessing… and I know, Gage, after everything you’ve been through, you’ll be a wonderful dad.”

“You think so?” he tilted his head, a lump forming in his throat.

The taxi horn honked, drawing him back into the moment, and he realized he should probably go get in the cab or get his luggage and hail another one.

“I know so,” Constance bobbed her head up and down. “Now go. Be with your heart.”

Gage didn’t realize he was crying until he was in the taxi cab, pulling away from the curb. He resisted the urge to glance back and wave at Constance, his lovely knight in a gray-blazer-and-suit pants-armor. Some day he would have to repay her, but for now… for now…he was going away. He was going home.


Author Note: The End. For now. Gage will make appearances in future Kassiopeia stories, and possibly gain himself another spin-off because I’ve been so blessed to write his story, and he’s wiggled his way into my heart. I hope you enjoyed this bittersweet ending. 

Previous Chapter: Interlude: The Very Next Day [Kass]

Interlude: The Very Next Day (FRWL) [Kass]

Kass blinked as the sudden light leafing through the the curtains filtered across her freckled face. As she turned on her side, she realized Gage was no longer in the bed, and she didn’t have to strain her ears to hear the water running in the bathroom. Ah! He’s showering, a sleepy smile stretched across her face. Absently, she laid a hand on his pillow. Last night, sleeping in his arms had been comfortable, more so than she cared to admit. She was starting to wonder what was keeping her from falling in love with the guy. Flopping onto her back, she lifted an arm to her forehead, and remembered exactly what was keeping her from feeling for someone. Davis. She pinched the bridge of her nose and sat up, self-consciously covering her breasts even if she was wearing her Edgewater Saints tee shirt and shorts. She half-expected her blonde-haired, blue-eyed ex-boyfriend to be staring at her disappointed from the doorway. Thankfully, he was not.

But ghosts of memories are, she dangled her legs off the side of the bed.  Kass wondered what it meant when she had been with two guys, one who was fantastically passionate, even if he was a jackass, and the other who was in love with her, adorably so, and neither one of them could satisfy the longings of her heart. Is it because I always want what I cannot have? she thought abysmally. She lingered on the bed, wiggling her toes, as she tried to figure out how she was going to explain her feelings to Gage.

He was a great guy. A wonderful guy. A sweet guy. He had made Christmas magical for her. She hadn’t recalled being that happy in a long time. But something was off… something was missing. Her heart was somewhere else, and it wasn’t fair to him. She felt like she was lying to herself if she believed she loved Gage now. After all the nice things he had done for her, after hugging her and kissing her, and rescuing her last night, after sharing a bed together once more, she didn’t know if she could tell him the truth.

When her feet hit the wooden floorboards, Kass stood with purpose and determination. I will be honest with him, she walked to the window, and glanced out at the frozen wonderland and the families running about and playing in the field across the street. One of the kids stopped, his eyes widening, but then he looked up and laughed, waving to Kass. She gasped, whirling quickly, and leaning against the wall out of site. I’m dressed. What am I so freaked out about? she chided herself. She should at least figure out what she had done with her bra. She couldn’t very well wander downstairs and face her dad without that essential piece of lingerie. I will be honest with Gage, she told herself forcefully as she yawned and stretched, walking over to grab her bra from the rocking chair. After I’ve had a cup of coffee. 

Unfortunately for Kass, the coffee maker wasn’t working. She flipped the switch several times, confirming her suspicions. The room had experienced some kind of brown-out. Come to think of it, the refrigerator isn’t humming either. Kass reached into the freezer, and pulled out a bucket of chocolate caramel ice cream. Right as she did, as if expecting something, Tigris and Euphrates curled around her ankles, meowing and purring.

“Aw,” she said, picking up Euphrates and kissing him between his ears. “You want fed, don’t you? Well, this isn’t for you.”

Kass smiled, snagging two spoons from the drawer, still holding the kitten, and perching one spoon between her teeth while she reached over to kick the freezer door closed with her foot. This was the ice cream with the cinnamon pecans. That was the surprise. While double mint chocolate chip was her favorite, she enjoyed the thought of eating chocolate caramel surprise for breakfast. Something about it was exciting and grown-up. Yes, I’m an adult, and I eat ice cream for breakfast.

Euphrates wiggled out of her arms and she let the kitten go as she settled on the couch with a self-satisfied smile. This was going to be a good day, she figured. While maybe she didn’t love Gage, she did care for him, and she enjoyed spending time with him. Perhaps she would wait until after the holiday to tell him the truth. New year. Fresh start. No use messing things up so soon, Kass.  Maybe if she gave herself some time, she could grow to love him with the same intensity and feeling as he did.

Forty minutes later he was calling her a jerk because she told him she wouldn’t wait while he ran off to Simlaska because Natalya was pregnant. Gage was going to have a baby. He was going to be a dad. This… was… big. She gave him an entire speech about why she might be selfish, but he was being selfish too asking her to wait for him to figure out how a baby and Natalya and a relationship with her fit into his life. She started panicking, wondering what she would do if she waited here. She couldn’t exactly live in the home of his former lover and roommate with her father in tow. She couldn’t exactly stay in Riverview and get a job and live her life.

They continued talking, and Kass felt her heart sinking, knowing the reality of Gage leaving for Belladonna Cove. They couldn’t be together… not with her plans and his new direction in life. She hated disappointing him. She hated making herself feel worse. She really genuinely cared for Gage, but somehow, in the heat of the moment, she told him she didn’t love him, which was true, but she could have worded it differently. She tried to make up for it by saying she could fall in love with him given time, but the damage was already done.

Kass watched Gage leave, refusing to look at her or give her a goodbye hug. She felt her heart tear from her chest as he stepped into his taxi cab to carry him to the airport. Gage was a special guy. She wanted to still be his friend, but his last word to her made her believe they could never be friends again. His resounding “no” stung with surprising force, and she wondered if she should run after him, to apologize, or take it back. But I’d be lying. 

Kass had plans for her immediate and long-term future. Howard was planning to drive up through historic Simnadia, to visit the alpine woods with their windows rolled down even in winter just to catch a whiff of the heavenly scent, to stand beneath the spray of the famous Autumn Falls waterfall at sunset, to drive through the enchanted forest, to roast marshmallows under the stars in the logging camps of Three Lakes, and to shop in the scenic village of Erewhon.

Before her mother’s wedding in Simpril, she planned to drive with her dad down the Simistral coastline from Simlaska to Southern Califorsimia. Howard planned to teach Kass how to fish off the Cape Garner and Salmon Woods islands in the spring. They would visit the dark town of Midnight Hollow at the end of winter when the sun barely stayed in the sky for most of the day in the Bearsim Sea Circle. They planned to do the silly tourist-y thing and hunt for Bigfoot and Nessie in Beach City. Howard said the best elk burgers came from a little town called Great Bear near the national park. They would eat in the darling cafes of Port La Forks, and stay in the best B&B her dad had ever found run by a charming Simirish transplants. And they would drive to Moonlight Falls in the afternoon and drink the delicious red roast coffee at Van Gould’s.

Howard promised they would visit the famous divided city in northern Oresim, climbing the mountains to Howard’s favorite picnic spot above Elmira City. They would visit the Simpanese Tea Gardens in Magnolia Promenade, and sip green tea at high noon, then take the train to the famous rose gardens. They would sip wine in Jack Simdon Square in Oakland, kayak across the bay to Legacy Island, and visit the small, but amazing farmer’s market in Bay City. They would bike across the famous Ruby Gate Bridge in Bridgewood, and picnic on the beach in the semi-tropical Evandale County.

If they still had time left, they would take a quick breeze through of Southern Califorsimia cities, starting with the whale pool in Fairhaven, walk Hollyweird Boulevard in Los Aniegos, take in an early Saints soccer game in Angel City, and while Kass visited some art museums, Howard planned to get in a game of golf in Bellair. Post-the-wedding, Howard suggested visiting Red County’s summer bands festival on the beach, and then popping down to Starlight Shores at the tip of the state for the summer Sim fests and traveling circus.

Kass couldn’t just abandon her dad and their detailed itinerary. She didn’t know how much longer her dad would be in good enough health to travel. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. At the convincing of Brendon Shore, Kass had applied to a few colleges and universities in Califorsimia, and she hoped to return to school mid-summer of this year. She had already received an early acceptance from Legacy College in Bay City. So her plans to go to Edgewater Global Business College fell away! Kass figured her year on the road with her father gave her invaluable experience, and it was only half done.

Gage having an unexpected kid would only interfere with her plans, and she couldn’t be expected to wait for him to figure out all the details. She was worried about her dad, and wanted to spend as much time with him as possible. She was worried about what might happen if her sisters had EXCES… if she developed EXCES. They were still young. They might beat it. There might be a cure in their lifetime if the government ever let up on their ridiculous research restrictions where only military-contracted medical researchers could do any work on finding a cure for the disease that was crippling a small portion of the population. It was still a significant population, Kass decided. My dad… is… significant.

Kass felt a tear slip down her cheek as she turned and ran into the living room, covering her face, almost embarrassed to be caught crying, even if the only other room occupant was a Christmas tree. Why do I feel a significant ache in my heart then? Am I such a bitch for breaking Gage’s heart? I am...she looked up and caught her sad reflection in one of the Christmas ornaments. Aren’t I? It’s like that song... she thought bitterly, as she climbed onto the couch and curled her hands around one of the throw pillows, drawing her knees to her chest. Last Christmas, I gave you my heart…but the very next day, you gave it away. That’s me… giving his heart away. But it’s not really mine to keep for him, is it? It’s not fair to him. His heart needs to be with Natalya and their baby. The dam broke and the tears flowed freely.

“I could’ve been happy with him,” she bit at her thumbnail feeling miserable. “If I tried… if only I tried… if only this didn’t happen when it did… if only we had been together sooner… then maybe I could’ve mustered the strength to try… to try and be the kind of girlfriend Gage needed…even when another girlfriend of his had a baby. Gah!”

Kass chucked the pillow across the room, startling Tigris who had newly entered the room.

“I’m pathetic!” Kass screeched to herself, throwing her arms on the couch in dramatic fashion.

Hearing the soft squeak of brakes, she leaped to her feet and ran to the window, half-expecting Gage to have returned. Instead, she saw her father step out of a taxi and pay the cab driver. It’s almost ten in the morning, Kass narrowed her eyes. Where has he been? She watched as her father walked around to the back of the house, and she figured he was planning to come in the dining room doors. It was the perfect opportunity to escape to the barn and hide in the shower.

Kass found the song on her playlist to put her in the depressed mopey mood.

Last Christmas, I gave you my heart
But the very next day you gave it away
This year, to save me from tears
I’ll give it to someone special
Last Christmas, I gave you my heart
But the very next day you gave it away
This year, to save me from tears
I’ll give it to someone special
Once bitten and twice shy
I keep my distance
But you still catch my eye
Tell me baby
Do you recognize me?
Well, it’s been a year
It doesn’t surprise me
I wrapped it up and sent it
With a note saying “I love you” I meant it
Now I know what a fool I’ve been
But if you kissed me now
I know you’d fool me again

“What a fool I’ve been,” Kass repeated, touching the tile wall.

She stayed under the water for a long time, so long that the temperature was no longer hot when she emerged. She didn’t cry anymore, but she still felt lousy as she tugged on her jeans, and pulled her new snow-white puffy vest, a Christmas present from her dad, over her mint-green turtleneck. At nearly noon, she had worked up enough courage to walk over to the main house and tell her dad what happened.

When she couldn’t find him, she figured they must have missed one another. Did he go back out? Kass wondered, plopping down on the side porch bench, feeling exhausted.

“Hey there you are, sweetheart!” Howard exclaimed, rounding the corner. “How about some thick cut ham sandwiches for lunch? I picked some up at a deli counter in Simcago last night. I could make that cherry pineapple glaze you like, and I think we still have dill pickles in the fridge.”

“Uh…yeah…” she sniffled. “Probably a good idea to use up what’s in the fridge. There was a brownout earlier.”

“Oh no! Did the breaker get reset?” Howard asked.

Kass winced, and ran her hands through her hair. “Um… no… I didn’t think about that. I was kinda busy….did you have a good date with Marisol?”

“Yeah, she’s in town to promote her new book and she called me,” Howard offered. “And no…you’re not getting any more details.”

“Ugh! Dad!” Kass replied, shaking her head. “I don’t want to know.”

“So where’s lover boy?” her father teased, sitting down on the bench.

“I don’t know,” she said, sadly. “Halfway to the airport by now, I’d imagine.”

“Airport? Why?” her dad asked, surprised.

“Um… he got some news… uh… I don’t know how to say this, Dad…he’s having a kid,” Kass sighed heavily, feeling the sadness creep into her heart. “…with his girlfriend from the summer.”

“Oh!” was all her father could say in reply.

After a few moments of stunned silence, he added, “Are you okay, my daughter?”

“I don’t know, Dad,” she wailed.

“Here, here,” he stood up and offered his arms for a big bear hug.

Kass collapsed against her dad’s shoulder, pushing her forehead into his collarbone, soaking his brown sweatshirt with her tears. Her father’s embrace comforted, but didn’t take away the incredible loneliness and overwhelming despair Kass was feeling. She couldn’t believe she let another good guy get away, but she knew she made the best decision for both of them, but perhaps not in the best way possible. She could have been more sympathetic. More understanding. More willing to try to work things out, or at least willing to wait until he knew what he was going to do before she broke things off.

Still, she had awakened this morning with a sense of the air needing cleared, and her intentions made known to Gage. She just hadn’t expected things to end so quickly. She had hoped to tell him how she felt and be honest, but to stay together at least until she had figured things out. But that wasn’t fair to him or her, and this was for the best. Then why did it hurt like hell had reached up from the cold depths with its icicle arms and froze her heart?

“Kass,” Howard spoke first. “Did you love him?”

“Um…no… I really wanted to… I really did, but I didn’t. Not the way I should have. Not the way he wanted,” she explained.

“And that guy from the Palms? Did you love him?”

“You knew about Billy?”

“I’m a father. Of course, I knew. I just figured you’d tell me in your own time and space and when we went to Mexsimco, I figured you broke things off with him.”

“Oh Dad, I’m sorry. I should’ve told you about Billy. He was a mistake…” she sighed sharply. “A huge mistake. I can’t even begin to explain how big of a mistake he was.”

“Did you two?” her father started and then stopped.

“No Dad, I’m still a virgin, I think…” she ran her hands through her hair. “I don’t know… I’m not even sure what that means. If you mean, did we have sex? No. If you mean other things… I don’t know… Daddy… I don’t know what this whole love and sex thing means. I don’t know the difference between a guy who wants to use me and a guy who is genuinely in love with me. I just don’t know…anything.”

She saw her father’s shoulders ever-so-slightly relax, and she couldn’t help but feeling like she let him down, even though she hadn’t had sex with either Billy or Gage. She needed to be more careful with whom she was with, and she needed to make better decisions in general. She was so far from perfect, and every impulsive thing she did seemed to end in disaster.

“Dad, I screwed up. I broke things off with Gage and he said he loved me. He said he loved me and the very next day I broke his heart. He wanted to try and make things work, but he’s having a baby, and I have plans… with you… places we want to go see… and your health and my health to worry about, and college plans next summer… I just couldn’t wait. I couldn’t wait knowing I didn’t feel about him the same way that he felt about me. But I still cared about him.”

“Then you did the right thing?”

“But why does it hurt so much?”

“Because it will… and it does… and Kass,” Howard said seriously. “I’ve made my own share of mistakes, and I was a lousy husband to your mother. I could’ve at least separated from her before I took up with Kate. But Kass, mistakes are part of life. They are part of how we grow. And I’m still growing up, okay? So you have a long way to go and many many more mistakes until you get to my age,” he added, almost teasingly as he ruffled her hair.

“Dad!” she laughed.

“That’s my girl. There’s your smile,” Howard chuckled. “But you know, you don’t have to make the same mistakes I did, okay, kiddo?”

“I know, Dad.”

“So it looks like we’ve gotta scoot. We should probably pack up after lunch and prep the trailer.”

“Yeah,” she shrugged, leaning into his chest with a half-hug. “You’re right.”

“Well, before we go…” Howard said, mischievously, his eyes twinkling. 

Author Note: Most of the cities I mentioned about Kass’ upcoming travels actually exist as worlds you can download. Maybe I was being lazy, but since I ended Interludes & Solitude early, this is how you know where she is headed off to post this chapter, and before Kassiopeia Fullbright and the Lost Legacy. As always, exercise caution when downloading third-party CC, but if you’re interested… here’s the list:

Hope you enjoyed the appearances of Kassiopeia and her father, Howard, in the FRWL series.

Previous Chapter: 1.40 It’s a Marshmallow World 

Next Chapter: 1.41 Troubles Will Be Miles Away

1.40 It’s a Marshmallow World (FRWL)

When Gage awoke, it was still dark outside. He wondered why he was so awake if he had only managed a few hours of sleep, but after trying, he found himself wide awake and excited. Slipping off the edge of the bed, he ever-so slightly kissed Kass’ hair, and let her keep sleeping. She had to be exhausted after everything that had happened. Once standing, he began dancing around in excitement. He couldn’t believe how lucky he was. Only a few months ago she had rejected him outright, and now he had everything he could’ve ever wanted. 

Gage snagged his cell phone off the night stand. Feeling festive, he plugged in his headphones and began hunting through his Christmas music play list for the perfect song.
It’s a marshmallow world in the winter,
When the snow comes to cover the ground.
It’s the time for play, it’s a whipped cream day,
I wait for it all year round!
Those are marshmallow clouds being friendly,
In the arms of the evergreen trees;
And the sun is red like a pumpkin’s head,
It’s shining so your nose won’t freeze!
Gage walked over to the window and stared out at the snow in the yard. Blowing on the window, he saw his breath on the frosty glass. Across the street, kids were making snowmen in the meadow, pulling carrots and sticks out of their pockets, and throwing snowballs as they played. Gage wondered if should wake Kass and they should join them. He hop-skipped down the stairs, two and sometimes three at a time, humming as he went along.
The world is your snowball, see how it grows,
That’s how it goes, whenever it snows.
The world is your snowball just for a song,
Get out and roll it along!
Gage threw on a pair of boots and a heavy coat and walked out into his yard to grab the newspaper. He offered a happy wave to the neighbors who gave him an odd look, and he realized he was still only in his tee shirt and boxer shorts. He didn’t even care how cold it was. The world was his snowball. Oh well, he shrugged, stamping the snow off his boots on the porch and kicking them off as soon as he was inside.
It’s a yum-yummy world made for sweethearts
Take a walk with your favorite girl
It’s a sugar date, what if spring is late
In winter it’s a marshmallow world

When Kass awakened, he would take her for a stroll through the wintry neighborhood. It would just the things she needed after her long night. He began brewing the coffee and heating up milk on the stove. Pulling the chocolate powder out of the cupboard, he dumped the package into the saucepan, stirring the milk with one hand, and grabbing the candy canes from the glass jar on the counter with the other. He plunked a few of the red-and-white striped sweet sticks into the milk, watching them dissolve. Then he poked around in the cupboards until he found the package of mini marshmallows and dumped a generous handful in the mugs.

The world is your snowball, see how it grows,
That’s how it goes, whenever it snows.
The world is your snowball just for a song,
Get out and roll it along!

Spinning around, he kept dancing in the kitchen, listening to his music that no one else could hear. Tossing his head back, he threw a few marshmallows up in the air and caught most of them with his mouth, except for the one that plinked him in the eye. Once he fixed the hot cocoa, he pulled two raspberry strudels from the vegetable drawer where he had been saving them. Howard said Kass would eat them all at once if she knew where they were.

While the pastries heated in the microwave, Gage plucked a Christmas rose from the planter box in the living room and laid it across the tray with the steaming mugs. After microwaving the breakfast pastries for a minute, he placed them on a plate and carried his breakfast tray into the living room where he plucked a Christmas rose from the planter box and placed the scarlet flower across the tray.

It’s a yum-yummy world made for sweethearts,
Take a walk with your favorite girl.
It’s a sugar date, so what if spring is late… 
Winter is a marshmallow world,” he sang aloud as he carried the tray to his studio, set it on his desk, and began hunting for a sketch he wanted to give Kass.
In winter it’s a marshmallow world!
In winter it’s a marshmallow world!
“Yes! Found it!” he exclaimed, holding up a piece of paper, right as his cell phone began jingling.

“Hello?” he answered with a cheery tone.

Gage, it’s me. Natalya.”

His heart thudded to a halt. Natalya? He whipped his gaze back to the clock to see what the time was. Seven-thirty which means on the West Coast… it’s… 

“Natalya, are you okay? It’s not even six there in Sunset Valley.”

I’m not in the Valley, Gage.”

She heaved a shuddering sigh.

“Okay, where are you?” he frowned. “I tried calling you months ago.”

I’m in Simlaska in Belladonna Cove. I have a cousin here.”

“Do you need something?” he asked. “I’m sorry… that was rude… uh… how have you been?”

Gage, I’m pregnant.”

The words hit him like a punch to the gut. Pregnant? He didn’t even know how to say the word aloud. She couldn’t be. Wait… that meant… this whole time? She was pregnant all this time and she didn’t say anything? She would be… 

I’m four months along,” she said, confirming his worst fears.

“Preg…” he collapsed against the white board. “…nant?”  He couldn’t believe this was happening. “And the baby is mine?”

Yes Gage. I’m not a slut,” Natalya said defensively.

Gage began pacing around the room. “I didn’t say you were,” he exclaimed. “I just… wow! Natalya… this is a lot to take in.”

It’s a lot to take in?” she sounded about ready to cry. “I’ve been carrying this bugger inside me for almost seventeen weeks. I’m too old to have a kid.”

And I’m too young, he thought darkly. Natalya was pregnant, and the child was his, and this would change everything for him… and Kass. Should he move to Califorsimia or did she want him to come to Simlaska? Or maybe he should bring Natalya here?

Say something,” she demanded.

“I’m thinking,” he said, harsher than he meant.

He could Natalya crying.

“Nat, I’m sorry, I just… I thought I’d have more time.”

“More time? What? Is this like the most inconvenient thing ever? It’s too late to get rid of it!”

“No… no… don’t get rid of the child!” he yelled.

Well, I’m not keeping it,” she snapped.

“What? No! I mean… you can’t,” his heart sank to the floor, and he felt a pit in his stomach the size of Illinoisim.

I already spoke to several adoption agencies. I picked up paperwork two days ago. I just thought you should know,” she explained. “I don’t expect anything from you. I just… they’ll want you to sign the papers… since you are the biological dad, but if it’s too inconvenient for you to get here, I can just say I don’t know where you are.

“You just thought I should know?” he repeated, in total shock. “Natalya, we need to talk about this. You cannot just give up our child… my child…”

Why not?” she wailed. “Gage, you haven’t been around. You haven’t had this thing… this parasite growing inside you. Gawd! Gage, I feel awful. And my doctor said I’ll be lucky if I deliver on time and healthy.”

“Look…look…look. I know I haven’t been around. I tried contacting you and couldn’t find you. You could’ve contacted me sooner. I want to be there for you… for the baby… for this new phase of our lives together. This child is as much mine as it is yours and I’ll be damned if I don’t come out there and help you out during this time. I want this… Natalya. I can be out there today if you want me to be. Or do you want to come here?”

Gage, I don’t want you to do anything, except say you’ll sign the papers. I don’t want this child and I don’t want you,” Natalya said, harshly. “I’m old enough to be your mom. You don’t want to be with me any more than I want to be with you. And you don’t want to raise this baby.”

“And what if I do? Natalya, you have to give me a chance. You have to at least let me fly there and talk with you. Tell me where you’re staying, please,” he begged.

No, Gage… I’m sorry. I can’t. This is for the best. No one ever has to know. You can go on living your life and forget about me and this kid. My attorney will send you the paperwork. Just do me a favor and sign the damn things, okay?

With that, the line went dead and Gage felt like something had died inside him also. He was so close. So close to perfection. To happiness. And now this? A baby? A baby? His baby! His and Natalya’s baby! That changed everything. He frowned, and slid to the floor, leaning his head against the banister. He couldn’t just sign his name away on a dotted line and let his child go like that without seeing him… or her… or whomever the baby would be first. He couldn’t just go on living with Kass and pretend like never happened. He couldn’t be in a relationship with the woman of his dreams if his own blood was out there somewhere raised by someone else. He couldn’t do that to his child. Not after everything he had been through. He knew what it was like to grow up without his biological parents. He knew what foster care was like, and he knew an adoption was no guarantee that the child would have a healthy, safe, loving family and a great life. He couldn’t guarantee that. He knew nothing about this agency Natalya wanted to go through, or about the attorney, or about his legal rights. They couldn’t just do this to him, could they? They couldn’t force him to give up his own flesh and blood, right?

“Damn it!” he cried out and slammed his fist into the wooden floor, and hit the back of his head repeatedly against the railing bars.

Life just wasn’t fair. There was no such thing as a marshmallow world where everything was beautiful and perfect and cozy, where sweethearts got to be together, and babies were born the way they were supposed to into families that loved them and wanted them. He knew what he had to do.

Gage slipped into the bedroom, and noticed Kass was still sleeping. He wandered to the dresser and heaved a sigh as he opened the drawer and grabbed a few clothes, shoving them into his bag beneath the bed. He knew how to pack light. This was his life. Moving around with little notice. He sat on the edge of the bed, and clicked through his phone, finding the airline website, and booking himself on the next flight to Belladonna Cove. With silent sobs, he kissed Kass on the forehead and she stirred slightly. Too chicken to actually face her, he walked into the bathroom to grab a shower before he had to leave.

Twenty minutes later, he trudged down the steps, knowing this would be the final time for awhile. His heart pounded and his breath was ragged as he thought about what he was about to do – break Kass’ heart. She was sitting on the couch, waiting patiently for him to emerge, and she had a bucket of ice cream sitting on the coffee table – chocolate caramel surprise.

“I know…I know…” she put up her hands. “I know. Guilty! But ice cream for breakfast just sounded like a great way to start a new year, right?”

Kass stood to her feet, and planted a warm kiss on his lips. Gage jerked away. He couldn’t do this to her. He couldn’t lead her on anymore.

Gage plunked down on the couch and waved his arms.

“I am going to have a baby!” he said, bluntly.

Her eyes widened and her mouth puckered in shock. “What?” her confused look melted into a teasing smile. “Were you abducted by aliens last night?”

“That’s not funny,” he grunted.

“Well… you said you’re going to have a baby…and we haven’t… I mean… you and I haven;t…so that’s not possible,” she said.

“Yes, but I have with others. Many many others,” he confessed. “Oh Kass… I haven’t exactly been a monk. I’ve been out there foolishly…damnit!” he pounded the couch with his fist. “…sleeping around, trying to find the perfect life… the perfect woman to love me… a home… a family… and oh gawd!” he rubbed the back of his head. “…I wished for it. I wished for it. With the sim’jinn. I wanted to know how to please a woman, and I have… I have please women. Many women. Oh I’m such a jerk for telling you all this.”

Kass just stared into the air, and he couldn’t tell if it was from shock or because she was upset.

“…and I wished for… to be irresistible… and I think I have been. I mean, I’ve gotten every woman I wanted, even you.”

She narrowed her eyes, but still didn’t speak.

“…I mean, I only wanted you. I really only wanted you…” he turned to face her and took her hands in his wishing he could squeeze her until she believed him but he knew the truth didn’t work like that. “I only wanted you..” his voice dropped to a sad whisper. “I  should’ve waited for you, I know that now,   but I didn’t and now I’m asking you to wait for me.”

“This isn’t fair,” she bit out.

“No, I know it’s not. Kass, I’m sorry. I’ve been with so many women, and I wished to be irresistible. It was a stupid boy’s dream. I was so stupid. And all this time, I wanted a home and a family, and now…” he chuckled ironically. “Now I have one. Natalya’s pregnant. She’s pregnant. And she needs me. I need to go. I need to go and make things right. I need to go be with the mother of my child. Can you forgive me? Please say you forgive me?”

“Gage, what do you expect me to say?” Kass asked, horrified.

“I don’t know. I don’t know,” he groaned. “I just… I want things to be okay between us. I want you to… will you wait for me?”

“That’s not fair,” she spat out.

“Please… I love… I love you…” he pleaded.

“Gage, you having a kid,” Kass threw her hands in the air. “Natalya is going to have a baby. You’re going to have a whole new life ahead of you. A whole life with new responsibilities and new directions, and where would I fit? I can’t be a mother,” she said, looking  almost disgusted.  “I can’t be a mother to your kid. And what about Natalya?”

“I know,” he sighed. “But you could stay here. Until I know things are okay and I’ll come back. I’ll probably only be gone a week or so. And you can stay here. I’ll pay the rent. You don’t have to worry about anything. You can stay here…” he lifted his hand and caressed her cheek. “And we can talk…and Simype every day and we can figure this out…together.”

“Gage, you need to figure things out with her,” Kass leaped to her feet. “…and I can’t wait. I won’t wait,” she hiked her chin in the air. “This isn’t fair to me and you know it.”

“Well, you don’t have to be a jerk back about it,” he said, his heart plummeting to the floor.

“What? Me? A jerk? Maybe I’m being selfish by refusing to wait for you, but Gage, you are being selfish asking me to wait for you while you fly around the country and figure stuff out with your baby mama and what? I’m just supposed to welcome you back with open arm, kid and diapers in tow? And what? Wait here… in this house…” she looked up at the ceiling. “…of another woman in your life… and with your…” she pointed over to Tigris and Euphrates curled up in the chair by the fireplace. “…other woman’s cats? And what about my dad? And my travels with him? And he’s got EXCES, Gage! I’ve got that to worry about! And my sisters and I might too. I might… lose him… and he needs someone to take care of him. And we can’t  just stay here in Anita’s or whatever her name is house until you figure things out.”

“It sounds pretty freaking ridiculous now that you say it that way,” Gage hung his head.

“Gage, we tried and obviously the universe is against us. We’re not meant to be.”

“Don’t say that!”

“No, Gage, you don’t get to say you love me and then back out on me like this.”

“Me back out? No! I’m still in. I’m still in if you are.”

“Gage, I can’t.”

“Why? I know it’s weird, but if you’re committed to this relationship, we’ll find a way.”

“You can’t have your cake and eat it too!”

“Kassiopeia, I love you. I always have and always will, and I don’t want to lose you over this. Please don’t let me lose you over this. I can’t bear to lose my best friend all over again.”

“Gage, I’ll still be your friend…”

“But?”

“But this is just too much for me to process right now. I need time.”

“Are we breaking up?”

“Well, it’s best, I think so…so….yeah.”

“Kass, please, don’t do this. Come on, honey, we can make things work. We can talk through things. We weathered a thousand storms and we can weather a thousand more. We worked through your dad leaving and your dad coming back and your mom’s depression and my losing my foster mom and through the Davis issue.”

“The Davis issue?” she frowned, and pulled her hand back from his. “Davis wasn’t an issue.”

“Well, you know what I mean. You dated him and then you broke up with him after you found out about his past and all that shit and then you chose me.”

“Gage, it didn’t work like that,” she shook her head, her eyes filling with tears. “It was complicated. Davis and I. I…he…I…really cared about him. And well… I treated him horribly, and our night at the beach and in my grandparents’ house was wrong.”

“What? Kass? You had broken up with him by then.”

“Yes but hopping into bed with you didn’t help matters and it wasn’t fair to either of you.”

“We didn’t exactly have sex.”

“Yes, but we slept together…and we slept together again last night…” she took a step back and released a cry. “I was a jerk to him. A complete and total jerk. He didn’t deserve that. And I don’t deserve this.”

“But he had lied to you. He married a prostitute.”

“Yes, Gage, but is that something you’d just up and volunteer to a person you had just met and were getting to know?” she asked.

“Yes, because I believe in being honest.”

“Oh! So what was that little confession of yours just now? You’ve slept with hundreds of women!” she threw her hands in the air.

“I didn’t say hundreds,” he grit his teeth.

“You slept with all those women, and you were engaged to one of them, and I’m betting you slept with the woman whose house we’re standing in right now. And Constance too.”

“I have not slept with Constance!” he shouted.

“Yeah, but you’ve slept with every other woman in the Midwest,” she shrieked.

“No, I didn’t tell you how many. I’ve slept with six,” he balled his fists. “And haven’t you been with someone?”

“Yeah, Billy!” she snapped.

His jaw dropped. Billy? His boss, Billy?

“And he was a jackass to me, and we were physical, but I didn’t sleep with him… well, I did…but not like that… not like sex,” she fumbled awkwardly. “It wasn’t like that.  I mean,  we didn’t have sex.”

“You slept with Billy? You dated Billy?” he seemed dumbfounded.

“Yes, what the hell is wrong with that? You were with what? Six women you said?”

“Yeah, I didn’t expect you to be a nun. I know it’s not fair of me to hope that you waited for me after Davis because of all the women I’ve been with. I’m not perfect, Kass. But none of those women… were you…”

“But you got one of them pregnant!” she cried. “And you neglected to tell me this right away when we first started dating so you’re no different than Davis.”

“No,, I didn’t know,  honestly,  not until this morning, ” he said hoarsely.. “And I’m nothing like Davis. I have years of memories and experiences with you. I’ve helped you through your darkest days. Kass, I know you. I know what you wish for and what you hope for and what your fears and insecurities are. I know how to make you laugh and smile…”

“And how to make me cry,” she said sadly.

“Oh Kass,” he pulled both her hands into his, and looked up into her eyes with earnest desperation. “Honey…I didn’t want to hurt you. I didn’t plan to hurt you. I want you. I need you in my life. I’ve always wanted you. And I’ve loved you from the moment I laid eyes on you. And I thought you loved me.”

“But I don’t,” she threw his hands aside like one would toss a tissue into a trash can.

Gage stood, stunned. He literally could not believe the words that just came out of his best friend and girlfriend’s mouth. She didn’t mean that. She couldn’t mean that.

“Gage, I…” her voice cracked. “…I don’t love you… not like that… not like you want me to. I’m not in love with you, but I do love you, as a friend… and I think I could grow to love you.”

The situation was déjà vu. Gage recalled saying the very same words to Anita a week ago. Were his words coming back to bite him?

“But…” she continued.

Always a but. 

“You have big things to worry about now, and you have…someone who needs you…” she smiled weakly. “…and that’s not me. It’s the mother of your baby to be.”

I should go and be with her. 

“You should go and be with her,” Kass said, as if reading his thoughts. “And me…”

I won’t forget about you. I won’t stop loving you, Kass, he balled his fists, trying to avoid crying.

“You should forget about me, because…”

No, she said the same words as Anita. 

“…because we’re not meant to be. We’re just circling the drain here, Gage. And it’s not fair to either of us to hold onto a ship that’s going under whether we like it or not.”

Be careful what you wish for, he thought, feeling depressed, hearing the taxi cab honk its horn outside the house. He knew he needed to go. He hated leaving on this note. Maybe he was wrong. Maybe he wasn’t breaking Kass’ heart. Maybe she was breaking his.

They walked to the door, and he couldn’t even look at Kass when he promised to call her.

“Not as a boyfriend…” he added, begrudgingly. “Just a friend.”

“I’d…like that…”she sniffled, and he realized this was hard for her too, just not in the same way. “I still want to be your friend.”

He couldn’t bear to look at her. If he looked at Kassiopeia, he would lose his nerve and he wouldn’t be able to go, and he needed to go.

“Gage?” she called after him, her voice breaking up. “Will you hug me goodbye?”

He stopped on the porch, his feet shoulder-width apart, his luggage in his one hand and his other arm swinging free. While her tone was sweet and gentle, and he could hear the sadness in her voice. He felt as if his whole marshmallow fluff world had let him down and he was rolling around on spikes instead.

That’s the real world, he gritted his teeth. Poke your eyes out and eat your heart alive. 

He couldn’t turn back. His heart wouldn’t let him.

“No,” he said, coldly.

His response was met with silence as he walked across the porch, down the steps, through the snow, and got into the taxi cab, not once looking back. There was no such thing as a real marshmallow world.

Previous Chapter: 1.39 The Fire is Slowly Dying 

Next Chapter: Interlude: The Very Next Day (Kass)