“I hope you’ll be comfortable,” Gage said as he walked inside the detached barn on Anita’s property. “This has a full kitchen and bathroom and comes fully equipped with heat. I stocked the fridge with some fruit juices and essentials.”
“You didn’t have to do that, Gage,” Kass said, the gratitude evident in her voice.
“Thank you, son,” Howard replied. “I think we’ll be comfortable here.”
“Yes, you’re welcome over in the mainhouse any time, but I thought just in case, I got you the eggs, bread, cereal, milk, cheese, lunch meats, and stuff in the fridge,” Gage explained. “Sorry I didn’t get around to decorating for Christmas out here.”
“That’s okay,” Kass shook her head. “This will be fine… So?” she slugged him in the arm. “You put cereal in the refrigerator?”
Gage flushed, and awkwardly opened the fridge door, and pulled out a box of Llama-O’s. “I guess I did,” he said sheepishly.
“But I got the 2% like you like,” he said. “And now the O’s are nice and cool.”
She smirked, running her finger across the small dining table. “Thanks. I guess.”
After showing Howard the downstairs bedroom and attached bathroom, Gage wandered up into the converted hay loft.
“Sorry, the people who lived here before…” he felt odd saying it that way, but he wasn’t sure how Kass would feel about his former female roommate and lover. “…seemed to really like cow print.”
“That’s okay,” Kass shrugged. “I’m used to sleeping in strange beds since I’ve been on the road. I don’t really care as long as the sheets are clean.”
He snapped his fingers. “Damn! I knew I forgot something.”
She slugged him in the arm again, and plopped on the edge of the twin bed.
“So how has all the journeying been?” he asked. “Last I heard you were in Mexsimco.”
“Yeah, I spent about six weeks there in a place called Desierto Rojo. We stayed with this awesome family at a place called Casa de la Esperanza.”
“House of Hope. Nice.”
“Yeah, the owners, Rosalie and Noel, let me tend bar in their attached restaurant and they took care of sups, Gage. I met my first vampire.”
“What? Really? That’s cool. Were you mesmerized?”
“Um…” she lifted her feet off the floor and wiggled them as she laughed. “…no, he was a little odd. I mean, he was a nice guy and all, but well… he had a sad story… his family didn’t really want him and kicked him out and he had brain damage or something.”
“Wow,” Gage plopped on the bed. “Sorry I asked.”
“No don’t be,” she turned toward him. “Miguel was nice, but no, I was not mesmerized by him.”
“Were there any other sups there?” he inqiured.
“Yeah, a few. A werewolf and a few witches,” she remarked. “They were all really nice. I don’t know why people are so afraid of them. Say! Weren’t you engaged to a sup?”
“Uh…” he averted his eyes. “Well… it didn’t work out, but yeah, she kinda was… well, she ran a commune here in Riverview, but um…she moved away…for the winter… went south.”
“Like a bird,” Kass stood up and twirled around with her arms waving free.
“I guess so,” he said.
She stopped spinning, and looked serious for a moment. “I’m sorry things didn’t work out for you.”
“Naw, it’s fine,” he shrugged. “We rushed things. And I didn’t really want to be engaged. It was an impulse.”
Her face darkened. “I know the feeling.”
“That’s right,” he stood up, a smile spreading across his face. “You dated someone too, didn’t you?”
“Yeah,” she said, shoving her hands in her leather jacket, and turning to look over the side of the loft. “We should go check on dad. Maybe the bed swallowed him.”
She started down the stairs, two at a time, and he followed suit, deciding not to pursue the “guy” thing. Maybe she’d tell him in time, but for now, he didn’t want to pressure her.
“Gage, this is gorgeous!” Kass exclaimed.
They had moved to the main house. Howard insisted on making dinner, and quickly busied himself in the kitchen. Gage brought Kass upstairs to see his art studio.
“Yeah, well, I’ve been working on it for awhile now,” he said, feeling self-conscious. “It’s not really done yet.”
“Really?” she lifted her hand as if about to touch the canvas and decided not to. “I think it’s amazing. You’ve really improved.”
“You think so?” he asked, hating the squeak in his tone.
“Yes,” she turned to face him, her brown eyes glittering.
He took a step toward her impulsively, immediately regretting his action as his heart began pounding so loudly he was afraid she would hear it.
“Thanks, Kass, that means a lot,” he said quietly.
“Yeah, it reminds me of the rolling hills in Appaloosa Plains,” she said, looking back to the canvas. “Dad and I stopped there on our drive up north. Actually that’s where I was when you called me the other day.”
“Yeah. It was really nice there. Dad spent time with my Nana Bea there.”
“Oh!” she laughed. “Yeah, sounds funny. I never met her, but that was dad’s adopted mom.”
“Your dad was adopted?”
“I didn’t know that.”
“Yeah, funny… I forgot about it until I saw him earlier this year.”
“So you enjoyed spending time with your dad?”
“Oh yeah, it’s been great. I’ve had fun visiting all these different places. We saw the Palm Canyon in Simizona and spent a little time in Alpine County and I saw the world’s largest ball of yarn in Winchester.”
“Really? How was that?”
“Weird… and everything in the town was strange… like even the food.”
She threw back her head and laughed, and he couldn’t help but join in. Her joy was contagious. Gage was proud of himself for his pun. She swung her arms as she tried to keep from doubling over in hysterics. Gage wanted to hold her hand so desperately. He could hardly contain his excitement… and his desire.
“Kass… I…” he trailed off, feeling shy all the sudden.
“Yeah I know,” she reached over and took his hand, almost as if she knew and his eyes widened. “I’ve missed…this…us… too.”
He could’ve melted into a puddle of happiness.
“Hey you two,” Howard called up the stairs. “Sounds like you’re having fun.”
“Yeah dad, we are,” Kass said, finally calming down.
“Too much fun to eat. I guess, I’ll have to eat all this pasta by myself,” he teased.
“Don’t you dare,” she started down the steps. “How soon is dinner?”
“Perfect. I’ll go change.”
Gage smiled. He liked the interactions between the father and daughter. She clomped downstairs and side-hugged her dad and he kissed her head before she raced out to the barn. Gage watched until she disappeared into the guest quarters, and then longingly glanced after her snowy footprints. She seemed so happy, and he liked seeing her this way. Howard asked him for a strainer for the pasta and he had to refocus on the kitchen.
They settled around the dining table. Howard had made goopy carbonara with a creamy garlic sauce and fresh garden salad with a southwest ranch dressing. Gage helped himself to a huge pile of salad as Kass and her dad both went for full plates of pasta. Kass warned her dad in a loving way that he better eat his veggies. It was good for him, she said. Howard tiredly patted his daughter’s hand and said he would be fine. Gage never knew diced tomatoes and Romaine lettuce could taste so good. Howard was a whiz in the kitchen. Kass teased him a little for taking his sweet time eating the salad, but he didn’t mind. He was so happy she was here.
They talked for a long time about their travels and all the places they had visited. He talked about his job at The Octagon House, and the town, and getting to know his family members, and the library, and Constance a little. He tried not to talk about all the girls he had dated, but Kass deduced at least three. When she asked about Constance, he flushed, insisting they were only friends and then heading to the kitchen for a second helping of salad.
“Save room for dessert,” Howard warned, having already finished his plate of pasta.
“What’s for dessert?” Kass asked, taking another delicate bite of her noodles.
“Your favorite,” Howard replied.
Gage and Kass shared a knowing look. “Double mint chocolate chip ice cream!”
“What? It’s your favorite too,” Howard said, a mischievous smile spreading across his face and he tapped his chin in mock thoughtfulness.
“Dad,” Kass rolled her eyes.
“Somehow I knew it was both of your favorites,” Howard teased.
“We stopped at EverFresh on the way into town,” Kass explained.
“For my birthday?” Gage said excitedly.
“Sure, but if you eat a third plate of salad you won’t be able to enjoy it and I’ll just have to have a double helping,” Kass smirked.
“You wouldn’t dare,” Gage quickly ran into the kitchen and shoved the remainder of his salad into a plastic bag. “I’m going to eat a small bowl first and then some pasta.”
They stayed up all night talking. At midnight, Kass leaped up onto a chair and started shouting, “Happy birthday!” as if it were the new year. Kass made him hot cocoa with all the works, including candy canes, and then they settled into the couch to watch his favorite Christmas movie, The Polar Express. It was the only movie they would play when he was in the hospital at Christmas time around eight years old, and he had practically memorized the film. He said it was one of the best Christmases he had when he was in between foster homes and now every year he watched it on his birthday, somehow reminded of the whimsy and magic of Christmas.
Howard came over to the main house to make pancakes and coffee and Gage and Kass were still awake, playing cards at the kitchen table. Kass insisted he was cheating, and she should have won the last two rounds, but Gage teased her and said she was just being a sore loser. It was like no time had passed at all. He couldn’t believe how easy things were. He was a little worried they were too easy, but he decided not to question it too much. They both crashed shortly after breakfast, and then Gage woke up at four o’clock to five missed calls. Apparently, Aiden Jones, his caterer for the evening party, had the flu bug and so did his wife, Hannah.
“Drats!” Gage exclaimed. “Now what am I going to do?”
“What?” Kass asked, rubbing her eyes sleepily as she pattered into the kitchen. “How long was I out for?”
“Seven hours,” Howard replied, looking up from his copy of the Riverview Register newspaper. “Was the couch comfy, sweetie?”
“Actually,” she yawned. “It was. What’s wrong, Gage?”
“I lost my caterer for tonight.”
“Hmm…” Kass slid into a chair at the table, reaching over and stealing the paper from her father. “I happen to know someone who works wonders with food.”
“Say!” Howard exclaimed, snapping his fingers. “What kind of food do you need?”
“Can you work wonders in about three hours?” Gage winced. “I need the food for tonight’s party at my work and I’m dead in the water without Aiden and Hannah.”
When Gage walked into the Octagon House at a quarter after seven, Howard had set up a sugar cookie table for the kids to decorate their own cookies, a hot chocolate bar, fresh fruit platters, and a chocolate fountain in the main hallway. Kass had run to the store and picked up all sorts of flavored whipped creams and managed to cut out exactly sixty-five paper snowflakes to decorate the table and the stage where Jon Lessen’s band was setting up.
“You are a life saver,” Gage shook Howard’s hand.
“It was my pleasure,” Howard replied. “Now I’ll make myself scarce.”
“Absolutely not,” Gage lightly shoved the man. “Go enjoy the party. Please.” He glanced over his shoulder, looking for Kass, and saw her waiting by the punch table. “Thank you,” he mouthed.
She smiled and waved. “You’re welcome.”
“Hey stranger,” a familiar voice said.
Gage turned around and saw Constance as she emerged from the crowd. He set his hot chocolate on the table and gave her a quick hug. She looked beautiful in an off-the-shoulder red tea-length dress and sparkly silver jacket.
“I met Kass,” she took a sip of her cocoa, and wiped her lip. “She seems lovely.”
He glanced over at the redhead who was bouncing around talking to all sorts of people. Her bubbly laughter warmed his heart, and she too, looked radiant in her fitted green blouse, silver belt, and black skirt, her long red hair curling around her mid-back. He smiled. He always liked it when Kass wore her hair loose. Constance slid to the side of the table, and picked up a cookie.
“Happy birthday,” she said sweetly, reaching into her bag and pulling out a small gift.
“Oh you didn’t have to get me anything,” he shrugged. “Christmas is enough.”
“I wanted to,” she shook her head, fluttering her lashes. “I saw this in a store, and I couldn’t help it… and I knew you would…well, open it.”
Gage tore off the paper excitedly and slipped off the ribbon. When he lifted the box lid, he caught his breath. She remembered.
“It’s an original,” she said. “I found it in our used book sale boxes, and I knew you liked the movie, so I figured you would like the book. All the illustrations are still really vibrant, and it’s autographed by the author and…” she flipped to the final page. “…and the artist.”
“Constance, thank you,” he breathed. “I just watched The Polar Express with Kass last night. This is so great of you… really… thanks so much.”
“You’re welcome,” she beamed with pride. “Now…go entertain your guests. It may be your birthday, but you’re still working, I think.”
“Yes, yes,” he smiled, leaving the box on the table’s edge. “Thanks for coming.”
“Gage, what are we doing out here?”
It was nearly midnight on Christmas Eve, and Gage had asked Kass to meet him in front of the house. She had been sleeping, but she begrudgingly got re-dressed and met him in the snow as he asked.
“Please, stay… please?” he begged, and didn’t even care that he was doing so.
“Only because it’s still your birthday,” she sighed. “Did you see my gift?”
“On the dining table?” his eyes lit up. “Yes. I loved it. I’ve been needing a new watch.”
“I hoped you’d like it,” she yawned. “I have a Christmas gift for you too.”
“You didn’t have to get me both.”
“Uh uh… nope… I did. Because I’m a Simcember baby and I hate it when people combine birthday and Christmas gifts…” she yawned and stretched some more. “Gage, I’m really tired. Can we go inside?”
“Nope, not yet,” he grinned.
“Why? What are we doing?” she whined slightly.
“Just wait…” he held out his hand. “See… I’m wearing the watch. I like the twelve different color garnets in here for each hour. It’s very colorful.”
“But it’s not very masculine,” she frowned. “I’m sorry. I just realized that now.”
“Don’t worry about it,” he shook his head. “Okay, tell me the time.”
“And…forty-five seconds, it looks like…”
“Okay…” he pulled his wrist back so he could look for himself, and then his smile broadened. “Guess what?”
“What?” she asked so she could see her breath.
“It’s Christmas!” he whispered excitedly, almost like a little kid.
She paused for a moment, contemplating, and then mimicked his smile. “You’re right. It is.”
“Merry Christmas, Kass,” he said.
“Merry Christmas, did you pull me out of bed so we could share this moment together?” she tilted her head and clucked her tongue.
“Maybe…” he laughed. “So where do you think Santa is?” he glanced up at the sky.
“Santa?” she made a face. “Seriously, Gage.”
“Yes, seriously,” he bobbed his head as it began to snow.
“White Christmas,” she exhaled happily. “It’s nice.”
“Yes it is,” he replied, reaching into his pocket and pulling out his cell phone. “Now the only thing to make this more perfect is some…music…” he pressed a few buttons on an app.
“Jingle bell…jingle bell…jingle bell rock...” the app blasted loudly.
“Shh!” Kass covered the speaker and giggled. “That’ll wake your neighbors.”
Jingle bell swing… and jingle bell ring…
“Oh who cares?” Gage threw his hands up in the air. “Dance with me.”
….snowing and blowing up bushels of fun…
“What?” she blinked at him as if she hadn’t heard him right.
Now the jingle hop has begun…
“Dance with me, Kass,” he repeated, earnestly, shoving his phone back in his pocket but letting the device continue playing the music.
…Jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle bell rock…
“What here?” she protested. “What does that even mean? The jingle hop?”
…Jingle bells chime in jingle bell time…
“Sure, why not?” he lifted his hands and began swaying to the music. “It’s jingle bell time.”
She laughed. “Okay, I guess so.”
“It’ll be fun,” he smiled. “I promise.”
…What a bright time, it’s the right time
To rock the night away
Jingle bell time is a swell time
To go gliding in a one-horse sleigh…
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