Gage knew things wouldn’t be the same after Anita’s confession. They returned to Riverview after that night, and he tried really hard to make her happy. Breakfasts in bed. Bubble baths. Doing the dishes. He brought her flowers. He read her poetry. He made dinners at home so she wouldn’t have to go out.
Anita was still worried about the press. Surprisingly, the gossip magazines had been silent about his relationship with the young widow, and he hadn’t heard any rumors among the usual culprits, like the Spenster sisters. Even so, Anita was growing increasingly paranoid so Gage was the one collecting the mail, taking out the trash, and going to work. Anita spent most of her days in bed, never getting dressed, and watching soap operas. He didn’t understand her reclusive nature. It was as if telling him the truth had weakened her, and she had spiraled into a strange depression. He understood mood swings quite well, but what he didn’t understand was why Anita was so upset as he thought that sharing the burden of her dark secret would help.
They still made love.
They ate together.
They watched television together.
They even talked… mostly in bed.
But Anita didn’t want to go outside. He didn’t pressure her. And they didn’t really talk. They never once brought up the incident with her dad’s coach again. Gage tried to respect her wishes. He didn’t want her to relapse. She claimed she was tired and telling him exhausted her. He could understand that… but over a week later?
Finals approached, and Gage realized he needed to study if he was going to pass. He sketched his outline on the white board in his art room, hoping to get some ideas for his final paper. When that failed to help, he started to doodle, but couldn’t come up with anything that satisfied him. After changing from his painting clothes, Gage head to the library. Anita texted him and asked if he would pick up some salted caramel ice cream at the store.
After spending all afternoon in the library, he stopped into EverFresh Delights Supermarket and headed for the frozen foods section. His phone dinged, and he glanced at the reminder message. Today was Kass’ birthday.
After everything that had happened, he wondered if she wanted to hear from him. He wrestled with this thought while he stood in the checkout line. Then he plucked his phone from his pocket and dialed. He hit the “end” button as it was his turn to pay. When he finished paying, he walked back to the greeting cards section. Perhaps he should get Kass a card instead, though he had no idea where he should mail it. He scrolled through his emails on his phone, finding Kass make mention of a place called Casa de la Esperanza. Maybe she was staying there in Mexsimco. Selecting a card he thought she would appreciate, he returned to the checkout stand and wrestled with himself about calling again. When Kass didn’t pick up, he nearly hit end again, but then decided to sing a rendition of “happy birthday” that Kass taught him when they were younger. There, he decided. That should make her smile.
Gage had nearly reached his car when he decided he would go back inside and grab some firewood. He could build a fire for Anita tonight and make some goopy carbonara, one of her favorites, and he could coax her out the bedroom for a romantic dinner in the living room. He frowned. But that means I need some pancetta and an onion. Returning to the store, Gage quickly plucked the items he needed from the shelf and returned to the check-out stand.
“Gage?” a voice called out to him.
He turned to see the owner of the voice.
“Cerise?” his eyes grew wide. “What are you doing in Riverview?”
The woman looked tireder than he remembered her, and she wore less cosmetics than normal, but her eyes brightened when she saw him. She smirked and grabbed a candy bar from the nearby stand.
“I heard your candy here is exceptional,” she laughed lightly.
“Oh really?” he quirked a brow. “Then you should try the Chunky Nougat Surprise. They package it here at the Cannery in town.”
“Ugh!” she rolled her eyes. “Don’t mention chunky… anything… that’s just… disgusting.”
“No seriously… what are you doing in Riverview?” he asked.
“Um…” she tilted her head to the side and her lips parted as if she was about to say something and then she changed her mind.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“Yeah… yes, I’m fine,” she remarked. “I just…I’m in a bit of a hurry. We can catch up soon. I just stopped to get some plasma juice…” she lifted the pack in her hand. “…before I head back to Simcago. I didn’t expect to see anyone I knew. I forgot you lived here.”
Gage frowned. Cerise was acting odd, but he decided not to press.
“Okay, well…” he pulled out his wallet and handed her a card. “If you want to catch up sometime, I’m in the City on Tuesdays and Thursdays for class.”
“Fancy…” she made a face, perching the card between her middle and forefinger. “The Octagon House? That’s respectable work.”
“Yeah, I’ve been there for awhile now,” he replied. “I thought I told you.”
“No,” she shook her head with a smile. “We didn’t exactly talk about our lives when we were together, you know?” she winked. “Oh… my turn…” she moved forward in line. “I’m really busy, Gage. I don’t know when I’ll have time.”
“Call,” he said, narrowing his eyes a little and then smiled. “Really… I’d like to hear what’s going on with you.”
She swallowed hard, and turned her head sharply. “Okay, I’ll call.”
“You went to see a hooker!?!?”
Gage had arrived home and walked upstairs to check on his girlfriend when Anita had flown out of the bedroom, fully dressed and armed for an argument. She took a swing at him.
“What? No!” he protested, lifting his arms defensively. “Anita, how many times do I have to tell you? I went to the library and the grocery store and then home.”
“Nadine Ivanov heard you!” Anita yelled.
“Wait, what?” he frowned. “Nadine who?”
“You know. She’s the daughter of your secretary,” she replied in a patronizing tone.
“Administrative assistant,” he corrected.
“Whatever,” she grunted. “She saw you two together.”
“Saw me with whom?” he asked, worried for the answer.
“The hooker!” Anita shrieked.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he sighed.
“The woman… you were at the store with a woman…”
“She has a name.”
“Yes. Anita, what the hell? I’m with you.”
“She said you made plans to meet up.”
“Meet uh… I…” Gage dropped his head. “…Anita, who said?”
“Nadine. She called here.”
“I thought you didn’t tell anyone about our relationship, Anita.”
“No… yes… Nadine is a friend. And don’t think that gets you off the hook. Sarah… Shanice…or whatever her name is… is a hooker…”
“No!” Gage threw his hands up in the air. “Cerise… her name is Cerise… and she’s not a hooker. Anita… you know I have a past. I went out with the woman once.”
Technically stayed in, he reminded himself, but he knew Anita was in no frame of mind right now to hear the full truth.
“Then why did Nadine say that she saw her coming out of the women’s health clinic downtown today?” Anita said, her pitch reaching an unnatural octave. When Gage looked completely lost, she continued, “And everyone knows County Care runs a free health clinic on the first of the month for women in the…” she narrowed her eyes almost disdainfully. “…in the sex industry.”
Gage was baffled. Where was this coming from? How was it that he got himself in trouble… yet again? He knew full well what Cerise did for a living, but he didn’t really think about the full implications of that. Anita looked about ready to foam at the mouth.
“Anita, calm down. Cerise…yes, I know her. I told you. I had a relationship with her… a really brief one… and I haven’t seen her since…”
Well once when I stopped by her apartment, but Anita doesn’t need to know that.
“…and how does Nadine know all this? She followed her from the clinic? What was Nadine doing at this… this… women’s clinic… for sex workers?”
“Nadine and I…” she lowered her voice. “…have a friend… well, we went to high school with her…Ginny…she needs a little extra money every now and again… her husband drinks or there’s a bad crop, and her kids need stuff… and she works…well, she’s an exotic dancer…”
“That’s what Cerise is.”
“Uh uh… no… I heard about her… a vamp or whatever she is…and she belongs to a house and I hear they are really lax about sleeping with clients, and you went home with her, am I right?”
Gage frowned, feeling attacked from all sides. “That still doesn’t answer my question, Anita, about why Nadine followed Cerise.”
“She was dropping Ginny off for a check-up, okay? And she saw… well… it doesn’t matter what she saw… she saw you… and that woman… together… at the grocery store… and exchanging phone numbers… and… laughing…”
“Just because she was at the women’s clinic doesn’t mean that she works in the sex industry.”
“Oh gawd… Gage! Don’t be naive! Your cousin works at that same bar as Ginny does and I know what goes on after hours sometimes. Ginny’s had a paid one night stand or two. She says the boss even encourages it sometimes… to take jobs on the side instead of paying her tips. I’m sure your cousin does too. We both saw her there.”
“Why are you talking about Rhoda now?” he glared at Anita. “Look I don’t know what you want me to say. I went to the store to get food for us so I could make dinner and I ran into an ex and chatted for a few minutes.”
“An ex who is a hooker!”
“Anita, calm down!”
“No, I will not calm down…” Anita turned and stomped down the stairs. “I’m going out. Don’t follow me.”
For the rest of the week, they argued. If it wasn’t about Cerise, it was about something else. If Gage was actually spending all his time studying. If he saw an attractive woman at work. Why Gage had gone to a place like a vampire house in the first place. Why Gage had proposed to another woman earlier this year. Oh yes, somehow she knew. Somehow Anita had excellent sources. Gage sighed. He could not win with this woman. It seemed like no matter what he said or did, she wasn’t happy.
He tried to reason with her. He tried to let things cool off. He even spent one night in the city with Sam, and Anita flew into a jealous rage, asking if Sam’s girlfriend, Ruby had spent the night also, and it wasn’t until she talked to his cousin that she believed him.
“Dude, you need to figure things out with Anita,” Sam had said. “She’s going berserk on you.”
“I know,” he sighed, staring at his shoes.
He returned home to try and paint in his studio to clear his head, but Anita cornered him again, this time hooting and howling about the birthday card for Kass she had found in his backpack. He wanted to address the snooping through his personal belongings thing but she barely let him get a word in, freaking out about the wording on the card.
“I always love you!” she yelled. “What is this? You love this Kass woman! You do! I got myself another cheater!”
“Kass is my best friend,” he balled his fists and shouted defensively. “I love her like a friend… nothing more…”
“Oh, nothing more!” she threw her hands in the air. “Sure… I’d believe that except this is a romantic card, Gage. I’m not a llama-flipping moron!”
“You need to calm down, Anita. I don’t understand why you can’t just trust me!” he yelled.
“I would trust you, but you haven’t given me reason to. You’re meeting up with women like Cerise…” she spat out hatefully. “At the grocery store… and you’re writing cards like this to that Kass woman… who you say is a friend, but I doubt that. And you’ve been with how many women this year?”
“Anita, that’s not fair and you know it,” he said, his voice dropping to an icy cold tone. “And you said you went on a one-night stand spree in the Sim Union after Phillippe’s death so you’re no better now, are you?”
“You never said you loved me, Gage,” Anita cried dramatically. “Not once. But you wrote I love you in that card to your best friend.”
“We have history,” he gritted his teeth.
“Yeah, I can see that.”
Anita stared at him, panting heavily as she wrung her hands nervously. Gage glared at her. This was the woman he had moved in with? It had all happened too fast. He knew that now. He knew Anita was too much for him to handle, and as much as he wanted to be with someone… anyone… he knew he couldn’t live like this.
“I think I should move out.”
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