Author Note: This chapter contains content that is unsuitable for younger audiences, including references to sexual assault of a minor. Please exercise caution when reading if this is a trigger for you.
Gage left the club and followed Anita. She hailed a cab before he could catch her, and he did the same, giving the driver the address to the Simulton Hotel in downtown Devils Port. When he arrived, she opened the door and doused him with the ice bucket and champagne that had been delivered to their room. For a half hour, he sat outside on the floor, knees bent, head leaning against the door, drenched in champagne and dripping water. An occasional guest passed him giving him a strange look, but no one bothered to stop. At twenty-nine-and-a-half minutes, he found a housekeeping cart in a side room and swiped a towel, wiping his head and patting his clothes. Anita poked her head out and shrieked because he was gone. He raced down the hall and was met with a resounding slam of the door.
“Anita, please, sweetheart, let me in,” he said, trying not to sound like he was begging.
Gage could hear her sobbing on the other side of the door. He didn’t know what made her so upset about Carlotta but he decided he would never see Anita’s twin again if he could help it.
“Anita?” he softened his voice, and sighed. “Please, can I at least change my clothes? I’ll get a cab back to Riverview and you can stay. But can I at least get some clothes?”
He waited. Anita had stopped audibly crying, but made no move to open the door. He supposed this wasn’t the first time he had wandered the streets of Simcago late at night in need of change of attire, but this time, Constance wasn’t around to help him out. The last thing he needed to do was involve another woman. At least he had his wallet, Gage shoved his hands into his mostly dry pockets. He just smelled like nectar.
Anita opened the door with a dramatic flourish and he fell back in shock. Gage stared up at her from the floor, trying to make sense of his girlfriend’s mascara-stained face.
“You can get your clothes,” she said coolly.
“Thank you,” he stood up and slipped into the room before she changed her mind. “Wait…” he winced, and turned around to face her. “Come here…” he opened up his arms. “Please?”
She stepped into his embrace, and shuddered. He held her for a moment, and then went to the bathroom, grabbing a quick shower and changing back into his other attire from earlier in the day. Anita was sitting on the bed, without her shoes, but still in her club dress, her arms hugging her knees as she watched some sappy romantic comedy, sniffling as she tucked her chin in between her knees. Gage leaned over and kissed her forehead, brushing her hair aside to do so, and then whispered he would see her at home.
Anita caught his wrist, and pulled him back onto the bed.
“Wait,” the tiny word escaped her lips.
“Do you want to tell me what this is all about?” he probed gently.
“No,” she shook her head, her eyes wide.
“Okay, well, I think it’s best I go and give you space,” he stood up after lacing up his boots.
“Fine, be like that!” she cried out.
Gage turned around to face her, but she had already brushed past him and was walking toward the door. He sighed, unable to figure out what she wanted. Does she even know?
“Anita, help me out here,” he said, trying to rid his voice of its annoyed tone. “You want me to go. You want me to stay. I don’t know.”
“I don’t… I don’t know how to talk to you,” she said sadly.
“Try me,” he reached for her hands. “I want to understand. I know that you were upset I danced with your sister at the club…”
At the mention of her sister, Anita flinched, and made a face.
“I don’t want to talk about Carlotta,” she grunted.
“Okay, then…” he rubbed the back of his head. “Let’s talk about us. Are we okay?”
“I don’t know,” she whispered.
“Okay, well you need to tell me why because other than that dance, I don’t know what I did to piss you off so much.”
Anita flopped on the bed, and howled, covering her eyes with the back of her arm.
“I’m not pissed,” she insisted in a weepy tone. “I’m hurt.”
“Why? Because I danced with her and you feel I was cheating on you?” he sat down heavily on the edge of the bed. “Because I’m not. I’m with you, remember?”
“Philippe used to say that too, and then…” she sat up and trailed off.
Gage sucked air in through his teeth. “Did Philippe cheat on you?”
Anita tore her gaze away. “Yes,” she admitted sadly.
“Okay… that’s a start…” he rubbed her hand with his thumb. “I may not have the best history with women, Anita. I can’t promise I’m perfect. I’ve got… I’ve done… well, I’ve been a shitty guy in the past… but when I’m with someone, I’m with them. I don’t want Carlotta. I want you.”
She whirled and suddenly her lips were on his and she kissed him fiercely. Then she retreated, covering her mouth as a sob escaped.
“I am…” she couldn’t seem to finish her sentence as she stood up and walked to the window.
“Whatever it is, we can get through it..” he said softly as he watched the woman he was beginning to fall in love with crossing her arms as she stared out of frosty window panes.
“No!” Anita cried out. “Would you still want me if you knew I was damaged goods?”
“Anita, you aren’t damaged…” he barely got the words out when she whirled, a deep hateful look in her eyes and tears spilling down her cheeks in anger and hurt.
“Would you still want me if you knew I was assaulted as a child?”
Gage leaped to his feet instinctively, and started toward Anita, but then hesitated. Did she want him to hold her? He felt an uncomfortable pit form in his stomach, and a tingling around his heart. She was assaulted as a child? He felt shock, anger, and hurt all at once.
“No! Don’t look at me like that!” she shrieked. “I don’t want your pity!”
“I… don’t…pity…you…” he said, deliberately and quietly, putting out his hands, almost as a defensive proof. “Anita… I… just come…. here…”
Gage wrapped his arms tightly around Anita, and she wailed in his arms, beating his chest with her fists and sometimes nearly collapsing under the distress. He held her until she had cried every last drop of water within her. He held her as she continued shaking and her voice grew croaky and she couldn’t speak coherently. Finally, she leaned back so she could see his face, almost looking shell-shocked.
“You know my father…” she began wearily. “…is a hockey player… for the Riverview Rhinos?”
“Anita…” he asked, seriously. “Did your dad…”
“No,” she shook her head vehemently. “He has never touched me.”
“Okay, I assumed, because you… I mean… Carlotta said…something about you not facing your dad…I’m sorry… I’ll shut up now…” he covered his mouth, and motioned for her to sit beside him on the bed.
“When I was fifteen… my dad had an affair… with his coach’s wife. Apparently, it went on for months, and while my dad traveled with the team, somehow he would always leave later or come back early or something so he could be with her. One day… I caught them…” she hiccuped. “…in bed… and well, that’s awkward enough… and well… while he went to shower, she came out in the hallway and he sat me down and explained my mommy didn’t love my daddy anymore, and well, this was her way of helping my dad feel better.”
“I told him I wasn’t stupid and I wasn’t a little kid. I tried to pull away and she said she couldn’t let me tell my mom. She locked me in the closet…” she cried, tears starting to well in her eyes once more. “…while she went back to my dad and did foul things. I could…” she covered her mouth and gagged.
“…hear them…” she bit out. “And when they were done, it’s like they forgot about me. But then the coach came over… he found out about the affair. My dad was gone at this point. He had gone to the store, and his coach and his lover argued. The coach hit her over and over and over again… and when he was done, he…” she pushed her hair off her face, looking bewildered. “…and then he came and got me.”
“…he said he was going to teach his wife a lesson and let her know how it felt to be betrayed. He was going to teach my dad a lesson. He dragged me from the closet and….” she shuddered. “…I told my dad and begged him to get help. But he wouldn’t… wouldn’t do anything… because he didn’t want to lose my mother… he wouldn’t tell her what really happened…and I suffered a nervous breakdown.”
Gage tightened his grip on her hand. He recalled a few times being locked in closets himself while his foster parents did whatever, and once he had been subjected to hearing an older foster sibling sexually assaulting a girlfriend, powerless to stop anything from his dark prison. However, what Anita had endured was even worse.
“When I woke up in the hospital, my dad said that the man wasn’t coming back to hurt me again, and he broke things off with the woman, and he quit the team. I learned later that the coach and his wife left the state. Dad couldn’t… face… what he had done… what had happened… so he told the hospital that I was raped by a guy from school. I tried…” Anita heaved her shoulders. “I tried to tell someone what happened, but no one believed me…”
Gage wrapped his arms around Anita, and held her as she laid across his lap.
“They even found some pothead who copped to the whole thing but he was too drugged up to know the difference, and I was too drugged up from my breakdown to really protest…” she cried, and covered her face. “An innocent man went to jail all because my dad couldn’t tell the truth. And I hated him for it. No one ever believed me, not even Carlotta. She kept saying I was trying to drag Papa’s name through the mud.”
“That’s why you ran away,” Gage deduced quietly.
“Yes, and everyone always assumed I just needed attention or something,” Anita said tearfully. “I thought if I left the country, I could… put my life back together… and Phillippe…well, he was so charming and kind at first. I thought I found my one true love, but he… hurt me too… he had so many lovers during our marriage… and I was about to divorce him when he died. I never got to serve him papers. His family blamed me and his brother paid me to go away.”
Anita stood up and went into the bathroom, breathing erratically as she gripped the sink and tried to gain her balance. Gage followed, holding her hair as the woman threw up in the basin. He felt an icy anger encircle his heart, for all the horrible things people had done to this woman, and at the same time, he felt a heavy weight of sadness. After he was certain she could stay upright on her own, Gage ran a hot bath for her and helped her into the tub. When she emerged a half hour later, she appeared tired but less distressed. He carried her to the bed and laid her head on the pillow. She grabbed his arm.
“Please… please… stay, Gage,” she begged.
“Of course,” he changed out of his clothes and lay beside her.
In the morning, he would need to figure out where they stood. For now, he would sleep. One thing he knew for certain – he would not leave Anita because of her demons in the closet.
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