For the next four days, Gage could do nothing but eat, sleep, and breathe Christmas. He was going to make this holiday his best one yet. Everything would be perfect.
On Sunday afternoon, Constance accompanied him to Simcago so he could purchase the right gift for everyone. He express-mailed a package to Pablo, a stainless steel salad spinner and a package of gourmet salad dressings, since Gage figured his foster dad hadn’t been doing a lot of cooking since Jennifer passed, and he knew how much Pablo enjoyed his salads. He also called and left a happy Christmas message. While at the post office, he sent fancy colored pencils and an adult coloring book to Anita since she mentioned she liked to pass her days doodling when she wasn’t with Phillippe’s dad.
Constance had also helped him pick out a pretty wood carved jewelry box for his aunt, a year gym membership and new headphones for her music player for Rhoda, a dinner gift card to a nice restaurant for Sam and Ruby as a joint gift, and then a hot and cold beverage bottle and a gift certificate to the air and space museum for Sam, and pancake mix and fun-shaped cookie cutters for Ruby since she loved her breakfast food. He got a personalized box for Howard to hold all his recipes in since he knew her dad liked to cook and got him a day pass for the Sunflower Spa so the man could go get a massage, knowing he was suffering from EXCES. When Constance wasn’t looking, Gage picked out a moderately priced pearl necklace. He figured she would be ecstatic since she had cooed over them for about an hour after they left the department store. Constance had even helped him pick out the perfect gift for Kass. He stayed up all night into Monday to finish it.
On Monday evening, after getting some sleep, he went shopping with his aunt Missy to pick out a blue spruce from the tree lot, and he stopped in the EverFresh Delights Supermarket to pick out lights, colored balls, tinsel, red ribbons, and enough hot chocolate and marshmallows to last him until February.
Tuesday morning, the weather changed, and Riverview woke up to a blanket of fluffy white snow. With the help of his older brother, Zeke and his cousin, Sam, he managed to hang colored lights on his house. He was a bit disappointed. Zeke and Zia, his older siblings, already had tickets to Big Apple City for Christmas, and were celebrating with friends. However, they promised to come back after the new year to meet Kass and her father.
On Wednesday evening, Constance brought pizza, and a bottle of rum and carton of eggnog, to replace the one she spilled, and helped him finish wrapping gifts. When they were done, he stuck a bow on her hair.
“Ow!” she exclaimed, and then laughed, sticking a bow on the edge of his nose. “Now you look like Rudolph.”
“The red-nosed reindeer?” he made a face, and then glanced about the room.
Red-and-green paper lanterns hung across the frosty window panes. The staircase was decked out with garland and ribbons, and the tree sported colored balls, hand-strung cranberries, blue tinsel, and silver spray-painted snowflakes with a big brown paper star with gold glitter. On the coffee table, he had placed the wooden box with Christmas red roses from his co-workers. And in every doorway, he had hung bouquets of mistletoe. A guy could dream, right?
“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas in here,” he smiled happily.
“Yes, cue the music,” she said.
He pulled out his music player, pushed a few buttons, and found the song on SimTube.
Constance hummed a little, closing her eyes and swaying to the music. He smiled. She looked happy.
Constance stopped, bracing against the coffee table to stand up. “I should get going.”
“No, you should stay and meet Kass,” he said.
Constance shook her head. “My kitties need fed, and you should see her again on your own for the first time.”
“Okay,” he felt slightly disappointed, but he understood. “Will you be here for Christmas?”
“I’ll be at the art show on your birthday, but I need to cut out early. I’m driving out to see my parents,” Constance replied. “They’re getting older and can’t travel as much.”
“I understand,” he remarked, offering her a hug. “When will you be back?”
“I’ll try to be back by the new year so I can meet Kass,” she answered, as he helped her into her pink overcoat.
“Okay, I’ll miss you.”
“No you won’t. You’ll be with Kass. Don’t think about me, okay, promise?”
“I’m serious. Have fun with Kass, okay?” she planted a kiss on his cheek. “What time does she get here?”
“Nine,” he felt his cheeks warm, enjoying the few seconds of her lips on his face.
“Alright, well, it’s eight-thirty-five so I better scoot. Merry Christmas, Gage,” she waved as she walked out the door.
“Merry Christmas Constance.”
At exactly nine-oh-one, Gage saw an unfamiliar blue pick-up truck pull in front of the house, towing a mobile home. He had been waiting outside for twenty-six minutes, afraid if he went inside he would miss their arrival. He huffed into his hands to warm them, and waved excitedly.
“Not too much, moron!” he grunted to himself.
“You can pull the RV over behind the barn,” he called out as the male driver, whom he presumed was Howard, Kass’ dad, rolled down his window.
“Thanks,” the guy replied, backing the vehicles into the driveway next to the barn.
Gage waited breathlessly, counting the seconds until Kass stepped out of the truck. He had been anticipating this moment for days, thinking through all the things he wanted to say and all the things he wanted to do with her. Until now, he hadn’t realized just how much he had missed his best friend. The frosted windshield made it difficult for him to see her face, but he knew she was there. The older man, wearing a beanie cap, hopped out of the cab and began unhitching the two vehicles while a familiar radiant redhead came bounding across the snow with an exuberant smile across her face.
Her name got stuck in his throat as she bounded across the snow. He couldn’t move. He wanted to run to her and throw his arms around her. He wanted to tell her how sorry he was and how beautiful she looked and how much he had missed her. He wanted to tell her everything at once. He wanted to say he loved her and he was sorry. Instead, he grinned like a total goofball, letting her have the first words.
“Gage, I’ve missed you,” she threw her arms around his back and squeezed tightly.
It was as if they had never been apart. As if the universe was giving him a giant helpful push, he accidentally bumped the music player in his pocket, and It’s Beginning to Look ALot Like Christmas began playing again. She giggled.
“Cue mood music,” she laughed.
“Oh Kass,” he leaned in and took a whiff of her jasmine vanilla perfume, and her fruity shampooed hair. “I’ve missed you too.”
He felt tears moisten his cheeks, and he felt like an idiot. He swiped at the unwanted visitors on his face, and continued hugging his friend.
“I’m sorry,” they said simultaneously.
Gage laughed and Kass did too.
“No, I’m sorry,” they said again in unison.
“No, I’m sorry,” the older man ambled up through the snow said jokingly. “…sorry that this one…” he leaned over and squeezed Kass’s shoulder. “…didn’t get to come visit you sooner. I’ve been dragging her all over the country.”
“Dad,” Kass made a face. “I’m happy to have been traveling with you.”
“Yeah, but I’m an old folk and this guy, he’s young and he can keep up with you better than I can,” her father said, half-seriously, half-teasingly.
“But most of the time I just went out to journal or write while you were sleeping. Nothing exciting. Nothing to keep up with,” Kass protested. “Okay… dad… this is Gage Briody. My best friend.”
Gage puffed out his chest and swelled with pride. Best friend? So I gained my privileges back?
“Well…uh…” she said hesitantly “…that’s if…I can…I mean…if you still want…I mean… I don’t want to presume.”
“Nope, best friend, yes, definitely best friend,” Gage was pretty sure his grin spread from ear to ear as he pumped the man’s hand up and down. “Gage Briody, good to meet you sir. You must be Kass’s dad, Howard.”
“Yes,” the man responded. “It’s good to finally put a face to the name. Kass told me all about your adventures together on our drive up here.”
“All our adventures?” Gage cocked his head, a hint of red filling his cheeks, and he hoped the man would think it was due to the cold winter air.
Kass laughed. “Where can we get settled?”
“Oh yes, right, here…let me show you…” Gage said, grateful to have dodged the topic.
“You go ahead. I’m going to get the bags,” Howard said, walking back toward the truck.
“Thanks Dad,” Kass waved, and then stuck her arm around Gage’s neck, and leaned in close to his ear with a sort-of giggly whisper, “Well, not everything.”
Gage was certain he looked like a tomato.
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