Gage wandered the snow-covered streets of Riverview, wondering where his life took such a serious detour. Was it when I lost Jennifer? Was it when I slept with Natalya? Was it when I moved to Riverview? Was it when I had a one-night-stand with Lakshmi? When Soléi rejected my proposal?Or the bloodlust with Cerise?
Was it earlier? When I told Kass I loved her and she didn’t want me? Or when I got drunk on the beach that night with her and we swam in the ocean? Gage could still smell the spray of the sea salt, and see the moonlight flickering in her honey-brown eyes, and the flutter of her lashes as the incoming tide splashed her angel-kissed shoulders. Gage rubbed the back of his head, feeling the scruffiness of hair forming, and wondered if he would ever meet someone as beautiful and intelligent as Kass. Sans the Bernish temper, he thought with a grin.
His brown boots crushed the bones of the earth beneath his feet, crunching the snow back into silent submission, occasionally snapping a stray twig or kicking a lone stone. With every step, he heaved as he climbed the winding sidewalk up Remington Point, feeling his soul sink further into despair. The wind seemed to propel the snowflakes away from his body, creating a wind tunnel, and he watched his hopes and dreams float away, always outside his grasp.
He sat at the top of the hill, perched on the wet wood seat of a hollowed out tree stump, a former shade of itself. Gage felt very much the same. I’ve changed. In the wee morning hours, he could see the first hints of violet flicker on the horizon. It’s me. Not them. When are you going to stop blaming everyone else for your problems, Gage? he chided himself. Still as he watched the sky grow lighter and the sun stayed hidden behind clouds, he couldn’t help but feel despair.
Will anyone ever love me?
Gage had climbed down the hill and wandered into the plaza. He had decided to go to work early and grab a shower when he passed Constance leaving the library.
“Phooey, isn’t that a little old-fashioned?” he teased
“Oh, hey Gage,” she sighed. “Um… yeah, I guess. I just… well, I locked my keys in my car, and aw…sugar!” she glanced down at her grey dress slacks. “I’m getting my pants all wet.”
“I could carry you,” he offered, somewhat seriously.
“No, no,” she shook her head and waved her hands. “That’s okay. I just need to call the Green Diamond Club. Hopefully they can…” she bit her nail almost absently. “…get here in time so I can open up the library. Otherwise, I’ll have to call Sheila…so…” she eyed him up and down. “…what are you doing here so early?”
“I was heading to work.”
“But the Octagon House doesn’t open until nine.”
“Yeah, well, I thought it best to shower there.”
Constance arched a brow. “Trouble brewing in paradise?”
“Yeah, you could say that,” he responded before thinking. “I mean… um… I…”
“It’s okay, Gage,” she said with a slight smile. “Everyone knows you’ve been living with Anita Errare, the famous artist’s wife.”
“But…but…” he blubbered, and balled his fists as he protested. “… she’s a widow. I wouldn’t live with another dude’s wife. That’s just wrong. I may not be great with women, but I know better than that.”
Constance laid a hand on his shoulder. “Trust me. I know what kind of guy you are. I know you wouldn’t do that.”
Gage sighed. “So um… I can hang out here…” he shoved his hands in his pockets. “…until your tow shows up.”
“Sure,” she shrugged. “If you aren’t too busy.”
“The shower can wait,” he said. “Besides, I couldn’t leave a lady in the cold all alone.”
Constance released a tinkle of a laugh. “That’s what I like about you, Gage. You’re such a gentleman even if you’re all over the place.”
“Hey!” he punched her arm in a friendly manner. “I’m just a guy trying to figure out what he wants. Do you know everything you want?”
Constance stopped, contemplating what he said, as she lifted her palm face up, and squinted to the sky.
“When I was a little girl, I wanted to go up there,” she began. “I thought wouldn’t it be amazing to reach the heavens? To see the stars in their natural habitat? To visit unknown worlds?”
He blinked, surprised by her whimsical answer.
“I studied astronomy as an undergrad actually,” she met his gaze, and then shifted her weight awkwardly. “But I realized I couldn’t ever get accepted into the space program because of…well…” she chuckled weakly and tweaked her glasses. “…these…well, my eyesight.”
“So I decided to follow my second passion… reading… and that’s when I got my masters in library sciences,” Constance explained. “And you know what? I’ve touched more stars and seen more worlds than I would have during a trip past our atmosphere…” she swept her arm across their view. “…could’ve ever given me. So I say… if what you want is always out there… then maybe start looking a little closer to home first. You might be pleasantly surprised.”
“You know,” Gage glanced up to the sky. “…you say some of the most poetic things sometimes, Constance.”
A hint of pink, matching her scarf, breached her cheeks.
“Are you happy, Gage?” she asked softly.
He heard no judgment or pity in her voice, just the kind of concern two friends shared.
“I have to think about that,” he replied honestly.
“Do that,” she urged, patting his shoulder, and walking past him to meet the tow truck driver at the curb.
“Constance?” he called after her.
Constance turned and he couldn’t see her eyes as her glasses had started to fog over, but a stray strand of sunlight managed to push through the clouds and graze the top of her chocolate brown hair. He caught his breath, surprised by the singular moment of beauty. I liked her once. He felt a smile spreading across his face.
“What?” she tilted her head to the side ever so slightly.
“Nothing,” he smirked, and then coughed as he shoved his hands hurriedly into his pockets. “Have a great day!”
Instead of showering at work, Gage decided to head to Anita’s house and face whatever consequences he needed. Anita was just stirring beneath the covers when he stepped into the bedroom. Her face was tired and her eyes filled with sadness.
“Come here, sí?” she requested, bidding him to come to the bed.
When he climbed into her arms, she squeezed tightly and let out a muffled cry He felt water pool on his head. She repeated “lo siento” over and over again, and finally wiped her tears from his head, letting out an embarrassed laugh, her cheeks bright red.
“I’m sorry,” she repeated again in Simlish.
“Look Anita, it’s okay. I forgive you,” he replied, squeezing her hand. “But I can’t keep doing this. I can’t argue with you until three in the morning about the other women who have been in my life, and I have never once thrown your relationships with other guys back in your face.”
“I know,” she looked down at her hands. “I have trust issues.”
Gage bit his tongue to keep from saying something he would regret. Instead, he patted her long black hair, and pulled her into his arms.
“I care about you, Anita, but you were right,” he admitted. “I don’t love you. It’s not fair to you to say that I do. But I…” he pulled back so she could see the earnestness in his face as she let out a sad little cry. “…think I could grow to love you… if you let me… if you trust me.”
She whimpered, and bit her lower lip as he continued.
“I’m not sure I know what love is,” he croaked the words out, feeling uncomfortable even as he said them, his chest tightening. “I mean… I loved Jennifer… she was my foster mom… well, really the only mom I’ve ever known. And I loved…” he stopped as he wasn’t sure he had the courage to say the words aloud. “…love…” he shook his head.
I have to say it now or I never will.
“…Kass…you were right about her. I have feelings for her. Deep feelings. The kind that don’t just go away overnight, and I think I’ve been trying to replace her or something, and it’s so not fair to all the women I’ve been with. Because she didn’t want me…” his throat caught.
“But Anita,” he leaned into her head, and smiled feeling the softness of her cheek against his own. “You’ve opened up my eyes to the possibility of love, and I know that… with time… we can make this relationship work, okay? If you’ll…” he hesitated, almost afraid to say the words aloud. “…accept me? All of me? My history?”
Anita let out a shuddering sob. He slid his fingers between hers.
“Anita, honey, will you start a future with me?” he asked, looking deeply into her eyes, the words so frail and his hopes so fragile.
“Gage, I don’t know,” she wailed. “There’s something I need to tell you.”
“Phillippe’s father is very sick,” she stated.
Gage felt the ice slowly creeping over his heart, and he knew that he wouldn’t have what he deeply desired. He could only imagine what came next, and he hated himself for selfishly wanting to keep Anita here in his arms.
“…and he…” she let out a cry, and cleared her throat to will herself forward in the conversation. “…he asked for me. He wants me to come to Emporadà.”
Gage waited silently for her to continue.
She squeezed his hand. “Gage, he wants to make peace with me,” she said, the sadness and the excitement creeping into her tone. “He wants to make things right. He says he would like me to come so he can ask for my forgiveness in person.”
The tears were now freely flowing down her cheeks. “Gage, he does not have anyone to care for him. His oldest son…my former husband… is dead… and his wife, she has Parksimson’s disease. She shakes so badly she cannot give him his medication. And his other son… well, he is overseas in Shang Simla, and he has no interest in coming home and helping.”
“You need to go,” he said, his voice devoid of emotion.
“You could come with me, my Gage,” her eyes lit up. “You could come with me to Simspania. We could still be together.”
“Oh Anita…” he sighed. “I can’t. I’ve got another semester of school left, and all of college ahead of me. And the job… at the Octagon House.”
“Gage, we can get you enrolled in a school over there…”
“But I don’t even speak the language.”
“You can learn. And I can get you a job that pays ten times what you make at the Octagon House.”
“But my cousins and my aunt are here, and I’m just getting to know them. And I finally met my older brother and sister too.”
“Well,” she bit her lip. “You could spend the holidays here with them, and then meet me in Emporadà. Gage, you said you’d do whatever it takes to make us work.”
“I did,” he sighed, remembering his promise. “I…just… it’s all so sudden. And you can’t bring me to your former father-in-law’s house. What would they say?”
Anita looked crestfallen.
“I wouldn’t belong there, Anita,” he said quietly.
“You belong with me,” she whispered.
He held her hand, trying to squeeze all the care he could into her bloodstream. He hated feeling like his whole world was crumbling. He wanted to go with her. He wanted to make things work between them. But at the same time, he couldn’t go. Not until his heart was in the right place. Not until he was sure he loved her. If he stayed here, he may never know if he loved her, or have the chance. But if he went, he was sure he would struggle to adjust and he would feel forced to try and make things work. And then what if they didn’t? He hated being a pessimist.
“No, you don’t,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper. “I know that.”
She slipped off the bed and sashayed over to the nightstand, opening the top drawer. Returning to the bedside, she held out a card… the same card he had purchased for his best friend’s birthday. The same card that read… I love the sparkle in your eyes and the way your laugh lights up a room. I love the way your hair falls across your face and the way your forehead wrinkles when you’re thinking too hard. I love the way you hug me as if the world is ending every time without fail. I know I haven’t always been the kind of man you want in your life but I want you to know I will try my damndest to be worthy of being called your friend again because you are so important to me. I love you… and I will always.
“You belong with her,” she shoved the card into his hands.
His eyes grew wide.
“Just tell her…” she sighed heavily. “Tell her how you feel.”
“I did and she picked someone else…so I’m over it,” he shrugged, trying not to feel.
“Gage, you wrote this last week… tell her…” she said earnestly, her eyes making contact with his. “…call her… invite her to Christmas.”
He looked at her, bewildered.
“I booked a flight,” she added, quietly. “I leave in the morning.”
“Anita..” he said, a hitch in his voice.
His hands were shaking as he realized what he was holding in his hands.
“Shh!” she lifted a finger to his lips, and tears sprouted at her eye corners. “I know. It’s okay. I know. I shouldn’t have pushed you or rushed you. I didn’t realize until I read that card… how much your heart wasn’t here…” she lifted her hand and placed it across his heart. “…it was there…” she pointed to the card with her other hand. “…with her…and you need to be true to your heart, Gage. We can’t fake the kind of love you write about in that card.”
He released a weary cry, and felt the tears moisten his lashes.
“Anita…” he said her name again, but he wasn’t sure what to say.
“Stay with me, today, okay? Please?” she asked. “I’d like one last day with you.”
Gage pulled out his phone and dialed, telling his coworkers he couldn’t come in today. Then they spent the rest of the day together, in each other’s arms, not saying much, watching television and sitting by the fire and eating meals in the bed. He knew he didn’t deserve this generous woman who was here sharing her home with him. He didn’t deserve her at all. She should be kicking him out and screaming at him and crying, but instead, she invited him to stay in the home while she was overseas, and he only agreed when she accepted his insistence to pay rent and utilities. She told him to stay as long as he needed, and to keep pursuing his art, and not give up. She told him he didn’t need to wait for her, and it was okay to move on. And she told him to call Kass and invite her to the house for Christmas, and to be honest with his feelings for her.
She may surprise you, Anita had said optimistically.
He could hope.
The following morning, they stood on the porch. Gage was almost afraid to touch her, worried he might feel something he shouldn’t, chicken out, and fly with her impulsively to Emporadà. Loving Anita would be so much easier than pursuing Kass. But he knew Anita would never let him come. Not after everything she said. Not after everything he admitted. The whole situation seemed surreal. He had only moved in with Anita a mere few weeks before, and now he was saying goodbye.
“Write me?” she asked, fluttering her eyelashes. “I promise. I won’t be jealous of another girl in your life.”
“Yes you will,” he teased. “But I will write.”
“You’re right. I probably will…” she reached up and touched his cheek. “You are a special man, Gage Briody.”
Anita grabbed him, pulling him into a spontaneous hug to hide the large amount of tears welling in her eyes.
“I’m so glad I met you,” she whispered.
“Me too,” he said as he squeezed tightly.
“Promise me, you will love that woman the way she deserves,” Anita said, her voice husky.
He blinked back the tears in surprise at her selfless words. I don’t deserve you, Anita, he crumpled against her chest.
“You know, you’re pretty special too, Anita Errare,” he replied as he couldn’t bring himself to say thank you in an adequate way.
Author Note: Thus ends the Anita and Gage arc, with another appearance by the lovely Constance, and the hope of potential future happiness. Still, I nearly cried when I finished this chapter because their relationship is sweet and unique. Different from the other ones Gage has had. I hope you enjoyed. I have a few more chapters and then I’ll be finishing out From Riverview, With Love.
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