Author Note: This chapter includes content that may not be suitable for younger readers, including unwanted sexual attention, language, and attempted sexual assault. If these are triggers for you, please exercise discretion. Regardless of your gender identity, if someone ever makes unwanted sexual advances to you, you reserve the right to say no and to protect your person. Please seek immediate help if you find yourself in this type of scenario.
It had been a perfect week for Kass. She couldn’t believe it. She was Gage’s girlfriend. They were no longer best friends, well, maybe they were, but they were more than that now – they were significant others. Kass liked the feelings that accompanied. For the first time in a long time, things felt right. Their relationship felt comfortable and relaxed and just the way a relationship was supposed to be. Kass couldn’t help but feeling like she was under some big giant magical spell and her carriage would turn into a pumpkin at midnight.
Stop being such a pessimist, she chided herself as she walked down the loft stairs.
Her father was sitting on the small couch in the main room of the guest quarters. He looked comfortable, leg perched at a ninety-degree angle with his other foot planted firmly on the floor, and one of the classics in one hand, and a china cup in the other hand. Kass paused at the foot of the stairs, resting her elbow on the railing end and her folded hand against her chin. He looked better than he had been, her father. The medicine Rosalie had given him in Mexsimco did wonders for his health, and he had regained some color in his cheeks, though to his chagrin, had not helped him regrow his hair.
“Let me guess,” she reached the final step, and then puffed up her chest as she deepened her voice. “Earl Grey. Hot.”
Howard closed his book with a knowing look, and she could see the steam rising from the teacup. “I have to live up to my Jean Luc Picard persona somehow.”
“Oh Daddy,” she giggled, and perched on the edge of the couch. “You’re so silly.”
“Yes, but we’re silly…” he reached out and bopped her nose playfully. “Together.”
He rose to his feet, and helped Kass off the edge. “You look lovely, my daughter.”
“Thank you, Dad,” she blushed. “I didn’t do anything special.”
“But you are special,” he said with a big proud fatherly smile. “And you don’t have to do anything or wear anything to be special either. Gage is a lucky guy.”
“Yeah, I guess,” she twisted a strand of hair around her finger, and then planted a kiss on his cheek. “Thanks, Dad. I’ll see you probably really late tonight.”
“Okay, be safe,” he said. “Say hi to Romon if you see him.”
“Don’t think the old boss is going to be in town. Ethan’s with his uncle,” Kass replied as she waved over her shoulder and headed across the driveway.
“Make my wish come true…all I want for Christmas… is… yooooooouuuuuu, baby!” Ethan sang in a passionate frenzy, making a deadlock with Kass’ eyes.
Kass released Gage’s hand, taking an involuntary step back. The music was mesmerizing for a teen band, but Ethan’s powerful tone and demeanor was unnerving. The concert of a student formerly under her tutelage had taken a strange turn. As he finished the song, Ethan continued to stare straight at her, breathing raggedly and no doubt, sweating profusely under the hot lights. The crowd was cheering, and Kass clapped politely, but she felt an uncomfortable pit grow in her stomach since he had dedicated this song in a supposedly sweet fashion to her, but this side of Ethan was… Kass couldn’t put her finger on it. He was talented, more so than she had realized, and she was glad in some small way that she had played a part with helping him be eligible to tour… at least she assumed Romon let Ethan come up to Simcago with his band, Black Lily, because he kept his grades up. Or maybe I shouldn’t have.
“Well that was different. I don’t know if I should feel flattered or creeped-out,” she said to Gage with an awkward laugh.
Gage said something about monstrous green hands and yellowed nails, but Kass couldn’t fully focus. She felt her ears ringing and wondered if maybe she had been standing too close to the amps. Maybe I should have brought earplugs to muffle the noise. She rubbed her ear lobes in frustration, wondering why the incessant ringing hadn’t stopped even though the concert was over and there was no loud noises. She glanced about in what felt like slow-motion, trying to see if anyone else was as affected as her, but everyone seemed to be conversing and laughing normally. She felt her heart pounding, and she resisted the urge to grip her chest. Why am I spazzing out so much? I’m not having a stroke or something, am I?
Kass reached over and punched her boyfriend in the arm, telling him it wasn’t so bad and they were trying to make a name for themselves. Gage seemed to shrug it off and asked if she wanted anything from the Eleven-Seven store. She couldn’t believe she was still hungry. Her stomach was growling like a caged bear. She asked for a hot cocoa and a cinnamon sugar pretzel. She thought about going with him, but then Sally Husten, their new friend, walked up and began asking her questions in a giggly high-school girl way. She gave Gage a hopeless look, and turned to chat with Sally, saying she’d wait here.
After a half-hour, Gage still hadn’t returned, and Kass worriedly took out her phone and tried to call him. He didn’t answer, but she left a message, biting her lip. Then she proceeded to the side of the stage with a large white tent, set up, presumably for band members. What she didn’t expect was to see Romon Tanner, her old boss, standing outside the tent and sternly examining a clipboard in his hands. The last time she had seen him he was lecturing her about how she was a good kid, but she shouldn’t be partying as it was interfering with her work, and she needed to do better. Kass gripped the bridge of her nose, and whipped her gaze away when Romon looked straight at her, his eyes almost glowing as they reflected the stage lighting. Ooo… I was not partying. I was with… Billy… she paused, clearing her throat. You’re an adult. You can do this, Kass. Maybe Billy had been a poor decision, and maybe she felt awkward about running into a boss who fired her, but she needed to “face the music” so to speak and there was no reason she couldn’t be polite to him. Kass turned, and walked confidently toward the direction of the tent, but nearly lost her nerve, when she heard him growl and toss his clipboard to the ground.
“Uh… hi… Mister Tanner,” she said with an apprehensive smile. “It’s good to see you.”
The man glanced up and frowned, eyeing her up and down. “Do I know you?”
“Mister Tanner, it’s Kassiopeia…” she replied, furrowing her brow. “Kass Fullbright. I used to work for you.”
An unnatural smile spread across his face as he rubbed his unshaven chin. It took all her willpower not to step back and appear intimidated.
“I think I’d remember if a sexy little thing like you worked for me before,” he said, a hint of lasciviousness in his tone.
Kass flushed hotly, and wondered what his problem was.
He threw his head back as the full moon slid out from behind the clouds covering the Simcago sky, casting a strange light across his face.
“You must have worked for one of my brothers. Ramon? Naw..” he shook his head. “You’re too pretty to work in construction. Probably not for my brother, Reagan in Sim City. You look a little young for politics. Rian works alone as a fisherman up in his cabin in Simnadia, so I’m guessing you worked for Romon in Lucky Palms. Am I right?”
“But you… you look…. you look just like him,” Kass stammered, involuntarily pointing at him, and then flushing as she realized her action was rude and quickly dropped her hands behind her back.
“It’s called we’re twins, darling,” Reuben chuckled, and reached for her hands. “Such soft hands. You worked in the restaurant industry?”
“Uh…” Kass stuttered, jerking her hands out of his grasp. “Um… I didn’t work for him for long.”
“Yeah, I bet, Romon is a real taskmaster, expecting perfection,” Rueben grunted, and Kass sensed some hostility in his tone. “You here to see Ethan? Or did you come by to see the handsomer of the Tanner twins?”
Kass felt her cheeks grow red again, and she hoped he would think it was because of the chilly evening. Now that she knew he wasn’t her former boss, she realized he looked a little different – his skin was paler, his jawline was harsher, and his eyes were darker… much darker.
“I…um…is Ethan here?” she asked, weakly.
“You know,” he took a step too close to her and she could feel his hot breath on her face. “…I can’t let just anyone back here…” he reached out and twirled one of her curls around his middle finger, almost possessively. “But you’re so pretty… that I think I can make an exception. Maybe if you give me a kiss on the cheek.”
Kass gasped, and Reuben laughed harshly.
“You should’ve seen your face…” he howled. “I just thought you know with you working for my brother and all and you’re dating Ethan, that you’re practically family.”
Kass narrowed her eyes. “I am not dating Ethan. He’s a friend. My boyfriend, Gage came with me tonight.”
“Ah…and where is he?” Reuben asked.
Yes where is he? she echoed internally.
“Is Ethan here or what?” she asked, hiking her chin. “I don’t have all night.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Reuben replied sarcastically, as he reached down and grabbed his clipboard from the wet grass. “Ethan!”
As Romon’s twin stalked into the tent, Kass shivered, rubbing her arms. Even though it wasn’t snowing and the temperature was above freezing, the air was still nipping at her exposed flesh. She wished she had worn a thicker coat than her leather jacket as she shoved her hands into her pockets. Maybe I should’ve worn a higher-cut top too. She thought, self-consciously fingering the lower neckline of her teal silk blouse. Ethan’s uncle was a little creepy, and there was something definitely off about the man. When he emerged from the tent, no Ethan in tow, Kass felt a little worried, wondering if she should wander off and meet Gage halfway, but Reuben made no more off-colored comments, and directed her to stage right where he said Ethan would meet her by the buffet table for the bands.
“Kass,” Ethan said, a sweetness in his tone again, as he offered her a hug. “Thanks for coming.”
“Yeah, I was in the area. I’m glad you told me about this. Playing a stage in Simcago, even a small stage like this one is incredible exposure,” she babbled, hoping the faster she talked, the warmer she would feel. “Black Lily sounded great. You guys really rocked tonight.”
“Thanks,” he replied. “I’m glad you came. I’ve missed you, Kass.”
“So…umm…” she returned her hands to their warm spot in her pockets. “I met your uncle.”
“Yeah,” he glanced back at the opposite side of the stage. “Uncle Reuben is a band manager, and he offered to help Black Lily out. I couldn’t turn him down. He’s managed some pretty big name bands in his day. Like The Prodigal and Beast 666.”
“Aren’t those death metal bands?” she arched a brow.
“Yeah, but hey, even if we’re more pop-meets-punk-rock, Black Lily can use his guidance,” Ethan replied. “So you really liked me? I mean… us… I mean… it… the band? Are you glad you came?”
“I did want to see if your band was a good as you claimed they were,” Kass replied coyly, twisting her heel in the grass. “And I thought you were. You had a unique sound.”
“Thanks, Kass, that means the world to me that you said that. I mean, really it does. I was hoping you’d like us and like the song I dedicated to you,” Ethan said exuberantly.
“Well, it was my first song dedication, so thanks,” Kass shrugged, cleverly sidestepping her honest response.
“Are you alone?” he inquired.
There was no malice in his tone, but nonetheless, Kass felt something amiss. Her stomach grumbled, and she laid her hand across it, and winced.
“So when do I get to meet the imaginary boyfriend?” he asked, teasingly. “I mean, you did bring him here tonight, right?”
“He’s not imaginary,” Kass blurted, and waved her hands. “He’s very real. Real real… like a man… real…”
Oh gawd! I sound like a complete idiot.
Ethan tilted his head slightly and offered a small smile as he reached for her arm reassuringly. “I’m kidding, Kass. And… I’m sorry he left you.”
“He didn’t leave me,” she bit out defensively. “Um…” her eyes swept to the street. “…he went to go get something. He’ll be back.”
“Okay,” Ethan shrugged. “I…um…are you hungry?”
“Actually…” she exhaled sharply. “…I am…”
“Why don’t you come over here? They have a buffet for the bands over here, but since you’re with me you can come along,” he reached for her hand.
Kass pulled her hand back quickly, feeling uncomfortable by the way he tried to interlock their fingers. She figured he meant well, but she just didn’t feel right holding a guy’s hand like that, a guy who wasn’t her boyfriend.
“What’s wrong, dear?” he asked, reaching up to caress the side of her face, almost absently.
“Dear!?” she grimaced. “Um… Ethan… I’m not your dear.”
“What?” he said, looking like a lovesick puppy caught in a storm.
“Do you realize what you said?” she asked, catching his arm.
He shrugged, and gave her a lazy smile.
Ethan had been emailing her almost every day since she left Lucky Palms, asking if she was okay and wanting to know if her dad was alright. Initially his emails had been brief, but as time went on, they had gotten longer. He had shared how his mom was having another baby, and his dad was working more hours than ever at the restaurant to make up for the unexpected expenses. He wanted to know about her experiences at Casa de la Esperanza, and asked her to teach him some Mexsimican. He learned about her love of Simpanese culture and began emailing her random facts about Simpan on a daily basis, clips of Simpanese music videos on SimTube, links to online simanga comics, and phrases he had learned from his mother, Aya, who had a Simpanese ancestry. She was beginning to expect these little niceties in her inbox every morning, but now she was beginning to wonder if she had been encouraging his behavior. He had used the term ‘dear’ before, quite frequently in his emails, and she had just ignored it, figuring it was a phase and he would get over it. He did have a huge crush on her back in Lucky Palms, and she had put an end to it before… or so she thought.
Kass followed Ethan to the buffet table underneath a grove of trees, covered in a red and white checkered picnic blanket and displaying several stacks of plates, trays, and violet-blue tulips. He grumbled about the lack of food. Most of the bands had already eaten, and there was hardly anything left. There was a bowl of spiced nuts and Kass grabbed a handful and shoved them in her mouth. She couldn’t believe her appetite for the last day. She poked around between the plates and found a few crumbling crackers.
“Kass, I have something for you,” Ethan said, reaching behind his back.
“Oh?” she managed between bites of crackers.
Ethan pulled a bouquet of dark red roses from his hiding place, and Kass gasped. This was not what she was expecting. He just gave her flowers. I’m in trouble.
“What do you think? Do you like them?” he asked, excitedly. “I asked the lady at the floral shop to give me her best flowers, and she gave me these. And I thought red would be a perfect color for you, the redhaired angel girl of my dreams.”
“Um…” Kass stared at the flowers in her hand blankly.
“Only the best for you, Kass.”
This is the single most awkward feeling in the world. How many times do I have to reject this kid? Kass bemoaned. Where was Gage? This would be so much easier with Gage.
“…you know that right?” he was asking.
“Ethan,” she began, her voice cracking, and she cleared her throat before continuing. “Ethan,” she said, more firmly. “I…I…can’t accept these.”
“Why not? You came to my show. I just wanted to give you a gift. A nice gift as a thank you. For coming. For all you’ve done for me. For all you’ve helped me become,” he explained, an insistence and urgency in his tone.
Ethan took her hand and she felt his callouses from playing guitar brush against her skin. It was an odd sensation.
“Kass, when you were with that jerk back in the Palms, all I could think about was how crappy he treated you. He was a shitty guy. A shitty guy, Kass, and I think you knew that,” he continued.
Kass could admit he had a point.
“And I can say shitty now and I couldn’t then,” he said, almost naively, as if he viewed himself a man now, even though it had only been two months since she saw him. “Kass… he was a complete asshole to you. He treated you badly and you deserve so much better. You deserve way better. You deserve…” he leaned back and looked up at the sky.
The moon, in its full glory, slipped from behind the clouds, filtering through the dead tree branches, casting a strange light all around them. Kass caught her breath as she stared up at Luna, admiring the beauty of the night. The air seemed to be almost alive around them, dancing with strange electrical energy, sending odd pulses up her flesh. In fact, the entire world seemed to be more alive as Kass smelled the dew on the each grass blade, heard the crunch of the gravel as a man crossed the parking lot in the distance, felt the wind slow to a dead halt as if the breeze had evaporated on the whim, and she could practically see an aura surrounding Ethan, as he was bathed in a wine-red light.
What’s happening to me? She felt her chest pounding, and she instinctively clutched at her breast, inadvertently pulling her blouse downward and exposing more of her skin than she intended. Ethan’s eyes were immediately drawn to the movement, and she self consciously lifted her other hand to block his view.
“Kass, my dear, you don’t need to hide with me,” he shook his head, a strange smile appearing on his lips. “I have seen it all, remember?”
“What?” she narrowed her eyes. “What are you talking about?”
Before she could stop him, he leaned in and kissed her fully on the mouth. As he kissed her, she slowly felt as if something was eating her soul alive, and she shivered, feeling incredibly uncomfortable as Ethan’s slobber landed on her cheek and dribbled on her chin.
“Oh!” she cried out, biting her cheek in the process. “Ow! Ethan! What the hell was that?” she began shaking her head frantically. “No… no… no… no… you kissed me before and I said no. I couldn’t. You can’t. Ethan… I have a boyfriend and even if I didn’t… you’re too young for me. You’re still only sixteen.”
“And you’re only nineteen,” he protested. “It’s only a three year gap. And the age of consent… it’s legal in some states.”
“Ethan! You can’t do this,” she shoved him and waved her arms. “You can’t. You…that’s disgusting… oh gawd!” she clutched her stomach, not wanting to think about anything having to do with consent with this boy.
“What can be disgusting as my love is pure?” he asked, and she hated how oddly innocent his voice sounded. “I have seen you all… in your full naked bliss and…”
“What did you say?” she said, her voice growing icy cold, feeling a terror she had not yet known creep into her heart as it thumped within her chest.
“You were topless in the park that night… with that bastard boyfirend of yours,” he said, nonchalantly, as if he had just reported the weather to her, and not just admitted to seeing her naked.
Kass ran her hands through her hair, trying to piece together what happened that last night in Lucky Palms, remembering her drunken stumbling stupor, and wandering around the park late at night where Billy wanted to paint her, and he did… I think. Oh I can’t remember! No one should have seen me! She blanched paler than the shining light of the white moon. But Ethan did.
“What?” she gasped, feeling the weight of bricks on her heart as if a building had just collapsed on her chest. “No this can’t be happening.”
“What can’t be happening?” he asked.
“I… I can’t…breathe…what’s happening to me?” she doubled over and held her stomach, the gnawing feeling increasing and her heart pounding like an out-of-control train barreling downhill on the tracks.
“Then let me give you wings, my angel-kissed one,” Ethan said.
Ethan yanked her into himself, pushing his hands involuntarily into her hair, and she cried out into his mouth, but he seemed to pay little heed as he kissed her with the same intensity as the words of the song he had sung.
“All I want…” he said hoarsely, between kisses, despite her whimpering pleas for him to stop. “…is you… Kass… I always have… I always will… make my wish come true.”
Kass threw up her hands and tried to pull away from his face, but he held on harder, gripping her cheeks between both of his hands with surprising force. She didn’t understand what was happening – why she couldn’t stop him. It was as if an invisible pressure was forcing her to stay against Ethan’s lips. She felt powerless to stop him.
“Eth…” she managed, and he pulled back, and grinned at her in either completely sadistic wonder or completely oblivious awe.
She hoped it was the later.
“Stop!” she screeched out, finding her voice again, surprising even herself as she lifted her hands to her mouth. “Seriously… Ethan… what has gotten into you?” she said, her whole body trembling as she took a few steps back.
“You have gotten into me…” he said, panting, as he walked toward her. “…into my head and my heart. I can’t stop thinking about you.”
“No,” she protested.
Ethan kept walking, and she felt trapped.
“I can’t stop wanting you. I can’t stop… I want to love you. I do love you. I need you. Kass, make my wish come true.”
“Seriously…Ethan… stop… I don’t want this… I don’t want any of it…” she cried out, tears dampening her eye corners.
Kass turned to run, and Ethan caught her with surprisingly unnatural speed, knocking her off balance and she fell forward, whacking her head on the edge of the buffet table. She cried out in horror, lifting her arms to defend herself.
“Oh but you will,” he said, his hot breath assualting her neck. “You will want this. You will want all of this. You will want me.”
“No!” she yelled, as one of her hands jerked free and she managed to hit him in the groin.
“Bitch!” he shrieked.
Ethan shoved his hand into her own, encircling her upper thigh with an iron grip and reaching over to her mid-section with his other hand. The tears splashed down her cheeks as she felt his fingers wildly grope her breast, feeling his thumb nail catch the edge of her blouse, piercing the flesh near her sternum. She wished she wasn’t so terrified so she could stop what she feared was coming next.
Ethan screamed, and she felt his hands release as she fell in a hazy fog for what felt like forever. When her face hit the ground, the sensation of cold dirt in her face knocked her senses back into gear. It took all of her strength to push herself over onto her back so she could at least see what was coming next. She heard voices, and they sounded almost as if they were underwater, and then she saw the arms of her unexpected savior reach down, slicing through the murky clouds swimming around her head. Something grabbed her wrist and she whimpered, and tried unsuccessfully to bat whatever it was away.
“Kass, sweetheart, are you okay?”
The voice was Gage’s.
“Gage?” she felt hazy, almost as if she didn’t believe what she was seeing and hearing. “You’re here?”
When did he return? What is this? Where am I? She felt as if she was swimming upstream and trying to reach the surface, but couldn’t quite manage on her own. The questions poured into her brain like overflowing water, choking out any coherency. She caught snippets of words… “here… sorry… late…second girl… rescued… the prettier one…”
I’m the prettier one. He was trying to help her stand, but her legs felt like gelatin and her feet swayed. She shivered, and choked back a sob as she realized just how lucky she was. If Gage hadn’t come along when he did, she didn’t know what would’ve happened.
He set her on the edge of the table between the relish and the pickles and her rear end bumped a plateful of hamburgers. Where did the food come from? she wondered. Had she somehow missed this earlier when she had been hunting for a snack? Feeling woozy, she leaned forward as if about to pass out, and her mouth pressed up against Gage’s soft cheek. His skin felt welcome against her own, and the tears fell uncontrollably as she squeezed her eyes shut.
“My hero…” Wait why am I the second girl he rescued? “Wait… the second.”
“Don’t even worry about it.”
His gentle words cut through the remaining fog, though she was left with a pounding headache.
“Take me home…” she whimpered, and took a deep breath reminding herself that she was now safe. “I mean… let’s go home. I’ve had enough excitement for one night.”
He lifted her into his arms and carried her for what felt like an eternity as they made their way through crowds of individuals waving, laughing, dancing, singing, and yelling, “Happy New Year!” at the top of their lungs. She clung to his jacket, her eyes closed, unwilling to open them, as she sat in his lap on the subway whistling through a long dark tunnel, the train car filled with joyous partying and drunken laughter. She leaned into his shoulder after he placed his blazer jacket loosely around her shoulders and he began driving them home as she had requested, his car humming down the highway and country back roads. She kept reminding herself over and over and over again that she was safe.
Gage was here.
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