The week Anita left, it was dry as bones. The snow had melted in a freakish warm spell, and by noon, Gage was regretting wearing a sweater. Sixty-six degrees in Simcember was annoying. By week’s end, everything was green and even flowers had started blooming again. He couldn’t help but feel like they were being tricked, the world was bound to dump snow on them by Christmas Eve and his birthday, right? And everything would die again. For now, he tried to not feel gloomy by all the bright and cheery colors. Tis the season for snow and icicles and frost, he grumbled as he trudged up the steps to work.
Gage was alone again… and Christmas was only a week away. He dressed, showered, spritzed his best cologne, bought himself an almond mocha, and listened to his favorite band on his drive to work. His aunt Missy had been letting him borrow the car as he just didn’t feel right driving Anita’s Margaret Vaguester, even though she said he could.
The day was filled with activity, plenty of things to keep his mind off his ex-girlfriend’s departure. Anita had arranged for six of Philippe Errare’s Snowy Landscape paintings to be on display. He also had a gorgeous Christmas village complete with hand-blown glass snowman, reindeer, polar bear, and penguin figurines on loan from the famous sculptor, Harwood Clay. Rayna had helped him unpack the shipping boxes from Twinbrook’s Curios Memorial Museum after lunch. Both of these collections of art would be revealed at a special party on Simcember 24th.
At the suggestion of his boss, Billy, he reached out to Aiden and Hannah Jones to cater. The couple had been trying to start a catering company, and apparently Billy owed them a favor. Gage knew Hannah since she had been around to help model for some of the art classes. He wondered how many jobs the woman had – reporter, model, caterer. Nonetheless, he decided to give the couple’s fledgling business a try. He spent the morning on the phone with Aiden discussing details. After unpacking the boxes from Twinbrook, Gage booked Jon Lessen, local music legend, and his band to play soft Christmas pop songs in the background at the party.
When he left work, Gage was feeling accomplished. He called Little Coriscan Bistro and ordered his favorite takeout. The place was slammed since it was the weekend and a holiday season, so Gage paid and decided he would come back. He popped over to EverFresh Delights and browsed the floral department, picking out poinsettias for the museum, a Christmas red amaryllis for his aunt Missy, and a few evergreen boughs and wreaths for his house. He made a mental note to stop at the tree lot tomorrow at the Riverwalk Park.
Gage called the bistro and they still didn’t have his order, so he began browsing the aisles, realizing he still needed to do his holiday presents shopping. He had no idea what to get everyone, and found himself panicking. Sam likes working out but I can’t think of anything… workout clothes. Naw… man… that’s dumb… I can’t buy my male cousin clothes. Maybe a… he wandered into the magazine and book aisle… a book about airplanes? A subscription to Sporty Sims? No…wow… that’s worse than clothes. How about Rhoda? He rubbed the back of his head. She likes shiny things. Rob a jeweler? he chuckled weakly. Yeah, sure… he browsed the gift cards. He couldn’t find any for jewelry stores. His aunt Missy might like a… a what? he wandered into the packaged dried fruits and nuts section. Dried chocolate covered cranberries? Green chili and lime cashews? Honeyed peanut brittle?
I need a drink! Gage walked past the dairy coolers and spotted the eggnog.
“Tis the season!” one of the grocers stocking the shelves smiled and tilted her head to the side, offering a wink.
“Sure,” he agreed. “And a bottle of rum?”
“Aisle nine,” she replied.
While picking out the spiced rum, Gage figured he should send Pablo something, and probably get something for Ruby, Sam’s girlfriend, and maybe he should send a gift to Anita. They had just broken up, but it would be the nice thing to do. But the more Gage thought about it, the more overwhelmed he grew, feeling at a total loss for what to get people. He returned to the checkout stand, feeling despondent about his inability to pick out gifts. I need help!
After picking up his dinner and loading things into his car, he saw the lights in the library still on and Constance’s car in the lot. Just his luck.
“Can you recommend a good book to read at Christmas?” he asked.
“Gage,” her face lit up into a bright, buoyant smile. “A Christmas book?”
“Yeah, tis the season,” he repeated the phrase from the girl at the grocery store.
“A Christmas Carol: The Tale of Scrooge by Charles Simpkins is always a favorite of mine,” she replied after a moment. “It’s a storyof discovering oneself and generosity of spirit.”
“Sounds perfect,” he grinned. “Although…” he leaned on the desk and she quit clacking away on the keys. “…I had an ulterior motive coming in here.”
“Oh,” she looked up at him, scrunching her nose as her glasses slid from their fixed position.
“Have you eaten yet?” he asked.
“No,” she narrowed her eyes. “But I really have so much work to do.”
“Come on Constance. It’s past closing time and you’re still here,” he offered his hand.
“I have to input all these returns,” she protested.
“Do it in the morning,” he said. “And your stomach betrays you.”
She flushed, laying a hand across her rumbling abdomen. “What do you have?”
“Three cheese red pepper ravioli, honey peppered chicken bites, house-made garlic knots, tossed garden salad with red onion, carrot, and tomatoes, and warm cranberry apple pie,” Gage replied, purposefully dragging out his words in an enticing manner. “And I think I have some vanilla ice cream in the freezer for the pie.”
Constance turned off her computer monitor and rose to her feet. “Say no more. You had me at three cheese red pepper ravioli.”
“I’ve got rum and eggnog too,” Gage said, hooking arms with Constance as she slung her purse over her opposite shoulder.
“Oh Gage…” she leaned her head into his shoulder tiredly. “You tempt me.”
“What? You don’t drink?” he joked.
“No… I mean… yes, but usually just weak wine,” she yawned.
“You can’t let me drink alone,” he said with a mock frown.
“Okay, tis the season,” she giggled. “You said it. I’ll have one glass… one glass…” she lifted her finger to emphasize her point. “…of rum and eggnog.”
“Oh shoot! I can’t,” she gasped. “I have to go home and feed my cats.”
“You have cats. Why does that not surprise me?” he teased.
“Stop it,” she smacked his arm in a friendly manner. “I also have a lizard.”
“Really?” he quirked a brow. “Okay, that breaks the stereotype. How about I come over to your place? I already have the food in my car. I could follow you.”
She thought for a moment as they walked out the front entrance and she locked the door. “I guess that would be alright.”
“And I need your help with something while we eat,” he said, walking Constance to her car.
“Sure,” she leaned on the edge of her car door and smiled sweetly.
“Will you help me get ready for Christmas?”
It was a brief drive to Constance’s home – 24 Long Island Drive. Gage leaned against her car, holding the bags of food while Constance dug through her car for her pale pink laptop case, heart-shaped purse, a stack of books, a newspaper, a box of cat food, a package of gum, and a tube of lipstick. He smirked, but avoided making a comment. She obviously needed to clean out her car, but he knew her work came first. He admired the quaint brick home with the cobblestone pathway before him. The house was devoid of Christmas decorations as Constance admitted she had hardly any time to spruce up the house for the holidays since she had been drowning in work. While he waited for her to finish grunting and searching, he returned to his car and grabbed a wreath.
“For your door,” he said.
“Oh, I couldn’t,” she flushed, and brushed a stray hair from her face. “Was that wind?” she looked heavenward. “I hope that means snow.”
“Tis the season,” he shrugged, and draped the pine needle wreath with a bright red ribbon around her neck.
She made a face, and then laughed. “I suppose that’s as good of a place as any.”
They crossed the street, and she stopped at her mailbox, but then decided against it because her hands were too full. Constance struggled with her keys at the red front door, and he made a mental note to bring her some evergreen boughs for her wrought iron fencing around her porch. Upon entering the house, they were greeted by two cats, an orange tabby and a blue-grey kitten. Gage knelt down to the floor and petted the cat closest to them.
“What are their names?” he asked.
“Oh,” Constance replied, walking around the corner into what he presumed was her kitchen. “The tabby is Tigris and the kitten is Euphrates.”
“Like the ancient Earth rivers,” he smiled as the kitten purred and rubbed his leg.
“You know your geography,” she remarked, followed by a clattering sound.
“Are you okay?” he stood up.
He wandered around the corner and saw all of her items collapsed on the floor.
“I’m so embarrassed,” she flushed as he helped her pick up the items. “I’m not a crazy lady.”
“I never said you were,” he winked at her as he stood to his feet “Glasses?”
“Uh…” she puffed a piece of hair out of her eyes. “On my face?”
“No, silly…” he smiled. “For drinking?”
“In the cupboard above the stove,” she waved her arm tiredly.
He reached upward. “This is an odd place.”
“Those are where I keep my liquor glasses,” she explained. “My dad used to keep all his alcohol above the stove and the glasses for them up there too. So I guess I just arranged my kitchen similarly out of habit.”
“Drink a lot as a teen?” he grinned, snagging two glass snifters and reaching in his brown paper bag for the eggnog and rum.
“Actually…” she shrugged and offered a wistful smile. “I had a bit of a rebellious phase.”
“Constance Shelley,” he grinned. “Do tell.”
“Not really wanting to,” she sighed, and lazily leaned on the counter. “It’s a long story.”
As she dropped her head and stretched out her arms, she smacked the newly opened bottle of rum against Gage’s stomach hard.
“Oof!” he exclaimed as his sweater, shirt, and pants were soaked with the brown alcohol.
“Oh my goodness!” she shouted, and reached out to help him as the glass shattered on the floor. “Oh I’m so sorry… I’m… uh… er…” she glanced about frantically, grabbing paper towels off the far counter and bringing them to him and as she did, she knocked over the open carton of eggnog.
Her face turned bright scarlet, and she ran her hands through her hair. ” Oh! Goodness! Dangnabbit! I messed up my hair… Oh… wow… I shouldn’t be thinking about me. Oh… I’m sorry. Oh goodness! Sugar beets! Plum! I’m sorry.”
He glanced down at his clothes, pulling his hand away as both liquids dripped over his skin. “Sugar beets?” he made a face.
“I…uh… don’t mind me and my old-fashioned phrases…” she hurriedly mopped at his sweater with the paper towel, avoiding making eye contact.
He grabbed her wrist gently. “It’s okay. I was hot in these clothes anyway. I think I have some gym clothes in my car.”
“Great, and then you can change upstairs in my bathroom,” she said in an awkwardly cheery voice. “Um…if you want you can rinse too… since you smell like…” she instinctively leaned forward and sniffed him. “…rum and eggnog… and…” she wrinkled her nose. “…blood orange?”
“Good nose,” he laughed, taking the paper towels and throwing them in her trash can. “It’s my cologne you’re smelling.”
“Oh uh… um…” her cheeks brightened again.
He took a step backward. “I’ll check my car for the clothes.”
“Sure, sounds great,” she remarked. “No Euphrates!” she howled and lifted her hands into her hair again, making even more of a mess of her bun.
Gage laughed as the kitten lapped up the drops of eggnog on the floor.
A half hour later, Gage returned downstairs, having showered and changed into his gym clothes. Given the warmth of the evening, he wasn’t even cold in his tee shirt and shorts. Constance was bent by the fireplace attempting to kindle the logs with her lighter. He tried not to stare as her skirt curved tightly over her behind and he stepped over her extended leg.
“I thought we could use a fire,” she said, hurriedly. “I know it’s kinda warm, but it might feel more festive and like the Christmas season if we do.”
“That’s fine,” he replied, averting his eyes as the tall librarian returned to her full height.
The logs crackled and sparked. Constance replaced the lighter on the mantle, and gave her head an absent pat. He noticed she fixed her bun, less elaborate than her usual braid, but nonetheless, still pretty. The microwave dinged and he assumed she had thoughtfully reheated their dinner.
“I’ll go get that,” he offered.
“No, I should,” she insisted. “You bought dinner and then I ruined your clothes. I threw them in the washer by the way. I can have them back to you before you leave…well…” she glanced down at her hands uncomfortably. “If you don’t mind staying past midnight for them.”
“I’m okay with that,” he shrugged. “Tomorrow is Sunday.”
Constance slid around him into the kitchen. “Do you want something to drink?” she called back. “I’m sorry about the rum and eggnog. I’ll repay you. I promise.”
“Don’t worry about it,” he replied, following her. “Are you sure I can’t help you?”
“Oh no,” she said lightly. “I got it…” she grabbed their plates and set them on the counter. “Here, I can get you a glass of water. It’s not the same…” she opened the cupboard, grabbed a cup, and stuck it under the faucet. “…but it’ll keep you from being parched. Otherwise, I have hot cinnamon tea… I think…” she rifled through the cupboard with her free hand. “…oh…um… I guess not… I have to go shopping.”
“Water is fine,” Gage replied.
She shoved a glass into his hand and smiled sheepishly. “I’m such a klutz. I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it,” he shook his head. “Kass is too. I’m used to it.”
He took a sip.
“Have you talked to her?” Constance asked, and then quickly turned around to grab their plates. “Oh I’m sorry. That was probably rude of me to ask.”
“Naw… don’t worry about it. No I haven’t. I bought her a card for her birthday, but I didn’t send it.”
Because I was too chicken.
“Um… because… it just didn’t…seem right…” he took a big gulp of water.
“We can go eat in the living room,” she motioned to the doorway.
He followed, and settled on the couch and she sat in the chair. They ate their food, and Constance pried… more than she should… into details about Kass, but he didn’t mind. It was nice to have someone to talk with, even if she did spill rum and eggnog all over him.
She opened up a little herself, about a guy she had been very serious with, although she was careful not to say his name. That little fact didn’t escape Gage’s notice. Constance kicked off her shoes to get more comfortable, commenting on how delicious the food was before returning to the subject of former loves. He got the sense that the guy took advantage of Constance, and took her for granted, and he had a hard time imagining anyone doing that since she was such a sweet friend. She shrugged and said the guy traveled a lot for work, and the distance made it easy for them to come back together, but it was never satisfying. Somehow this affirmed to him he had made the right decision about Anita. A long distance relationship with a few visits every once in awhile for a hook-up really wasn’t what he was looking for, and Constance pretty much admitted she did this for two years, an on-again, off-again, heated, but turbulent romance before ending things.
“It broke my heart too,” she offered softly.
He resisted the urge to reach for her hand, instead fiddling with his fork.
“…but it was for the best and we wanted different things so it wouldn’t have worked,” she sighed heavily, and met his eyes with a half-smile. “…I deserved better and I stayed way longer than I should have, but I’m happier now.”
“I’m…uh…” he fumbled for words. “…glad you’re happier now.”
“Now about Kass…” Constance straightened in her seat. “I think you should call her.”
Before he could chicken out, he dialed his former friend’s number and was surprised when Kass answered, and he covered the mouthpiece, breathing hard in and out, trying to calm his nerves.
“Gage?” it was so good to hear her voice.
“Hi…” he croaked.
“It’s really late there. Is everything okay?” Kass asked.
Yeah, everything’s fine. I was….uh… wondering…what are your plans for Christmas? I know you’re traveling with your dad and all, and I know that you’re…” he stood and began pacing. “…probably busy and probably don’t want to see me. And I was a jerk and all to you, but I hope we can put that past us and you can come here so we can…” he thought back to Anita’s words about her former father-in-law. “…so I can…ask for your forgiveness in person?”
He hesitated with his last words, feeling vulnerable, but Constance squeezed his hand, giving him a dose of confidence. Kass didn’t say anything, and he was worried she would say no.
“…what do you say, Kassiopeia? Don’t leave a guy hanging,” he chuckled weakly. “I…um… tis the season…for making up and stuff. You know, holiday spirit and everything. I’d hate for you to still be mad at me, and hate me…” he bit his lower lip, slowing those last few words.
“I don’t hate you,” she replied softly.
“Well, good,” he took this as a positive sign. “…so will you come? You and your dad? I have plenty of room at my new house and you can meet my relatives. They aren’t so bad, you know. I know you were worried about them and all… and oh! I met some other relatives… an older brother and sister… they’re twins.”
“Gage, that’s great!” her voice sounded croaky. “I should apologize too. I’m sorry… I was…kinda a jerk before too. I shouldn’t have tried to hold you back and everything… now that I’ve been traveling with my dad and I think about all those years my mamma didn’t let me…be around him… well… I know how you feel, I guess.”
“All’s forgiven,” he said, a lump forming in his throat.
Constance grinned at him, and gave him a thumbs up as she picked up their dinner plates and wandered into the kitchen.
“You really met more siblings?”
“Yeah. I hope you can meet them… if you come. Will you come?”
“Hold on… let me check with my dad.”
The line made a small sound as she muted him, and he smiled at Constance as she returned with a fresh water glass.
“She’s checking with her dad,” he whispered.
“That’s great” Constance murmured.
“We can be there on the twenty-third,” Kass returned to the line.
“Awesome! I am happy you’re coming! Really, Kass! It’ll be great to see you.”
“Just in time for Christmas.”
“Just in time for your birthday…” she giggled. “…or did you forget, silly?”
“Oh, right!” he smacked his forehead.
Simcember 24th was Christmas Eve, and also his twentieth birthday.
“I’ll bring you a present.”
“Just you being here will be enough.”
“I know… but I want to,” she said.
“I’ll text you the address,” he replied.
“Thanks. I should go, Gage. But I’ll see you Wednesday.”
Four days? How would he ever wait?
“See you Wednesday…” he hit the end button. “Constance?”
“Yes, I know,” she laughed. Now,” she swished her hands as she stood up and walked to her bookshelf. “You wanted a recipe for a Yule log? I have one in a book somewhere.”
“Yeah,” he said, picking up his water glass. “I was thinking I should host a Christmas party at my house. My aunt Missy mentioned liking it. Is it any good?”
“Let’s see…” Constance returned to her chair, and began flipping through the pages of a cookbook. “It’s got chocolate so I’m sure Kass will love it.”
“Yeah, she likes chocolate,” he nodded. “I’d like everything to be perfect. Do you think this Yule cake…stump…log thingy will do it?”
“It’s a pretty popular dessert in the Sim Union. I made it once for the library Christmas party and it was a big success. I could come over and help you if you want.”
“I’d like that,” he replied, smiling.
Gage had the feeling he would enjoy a long friendship with Constance. He smirked.
“What?” she looked at him, her eyes twinkling.
“I was just thinking…” he began, rubbing his chin in mock seriousness.
“Yes?” she made a face.
“You’d look cute covered in flour,” he laughed, already ducking the pillow she threw at him.
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