When Gage awoke, it was still dark outside. He wondered why he was so awake if he had only managed a few hours of sleep, but after trying, he found himself wide awake and excited. Slipping off the edge of the bed, he ever-so slightly kissed Kass’ hair, and let her keep sleeping. She had to be exhausted after everything that had happened. Once standing, he began dancing around in excitement. He couldn’t believe how lucky he was. Only a few months ago she had rejected him outright, and now he had everything he could’ve ever wanted.
When the snow comes to cover the ground.
It’s the time for play, it’s a whipped cream day,
I wait for it all year round!
In the arms of the evergreen trees;
And the sun is red like a pumpkin’s head,
It’s shining so your nose won’t freeze!
That’s how it goes, whenever it snows.
The world is your snowball just for a song,
Get out and roll it along!
Take a walk with your favorite girl
It’s a sugar date, what if spring is late
In winter it’s a marshmallow world
When Kass awakened, he would take her for a stroll through the wintry neighborhood. It would just the things she needed after her long night. He began brewing the coffee and heating up milk on the stove. Pulling the chocolate powder out of the cupboard, he dumped the package into the saucepan, stirring the milk with one hand, and grabbing the candy canes from the glass jar on the counter with the other. He plunked a few of the red-and-white striped sweet sticks into the milk, watching them dissolve. Then he poked around in the cupboards until he found the package of mini marshmallows and dumped a generous handful in the mugs.
The world is your snowball, see how it grows,
That’s how it goes, whenever it snows.
The world is your snowball just for a song,
Get out and roll it along!
Spinning around, he kept dancing in the kitchen, listening to his music that no one else could hear. Tossing his head back, he threw a few marshmallows up in the air and caught most of them with his mouth, except for the one that plinked him in the eye. Once he fixed the hot cocoa, he pulled two raspberry strudels from the vegetable drawer where he had been saving them. Howard said Kass would eat them all at once if she knew where they were.
While the pastries heated in the microwave, Gage plucked a Christmas rose from the planter box in the living room and laid it across the tray with the steaming mugs. After microwaving the breakfast pastries for a minute, he placed them on a plate and carried his breakfast tray into the living room where he plucked a Christmas rose from the planter box and placed the scarlet flower across the tray.
Take a walk with your favorite girl.
It’s a sugar date, so what if spring is late…
In winter it’s a marshmallow world!
“Hello?” he answered with a cheery tone.
“Gage, it’s me. Natalya.”
His heart thudded to a halt. Natalya? He whipped his gaze back to the clock to see what the time was. Seven-thirty which means on the West Coast… it’s…
“Natalya, are you okay? It’s not even six there in Sunset Valley.”
“I’m not in the Valley, Gage.”
She heaved a shuddering sigh.
“Okay, where are you?” he frowned. “I tried calling you months ago.”
“I’m in Alasimka in Belladonna Cove. I have a cousin here.”
“Do you need something?” he asked. “I’m sorry… that was rude… uh… how have you been?”
“Gage, I’m pregnant.”
The words hit him like a punch to the gut. Pregnant? He didn’t even know how to say the word aloud. She couldn’t be. Wait… that meant… this whole time? She was pregnant all this time and she didn’t say anything? She would be…
“I’m four months along,” she said, confirming his worst fears.
“Preg…” he collapsed against the white board. “…nant?” He couldn’t believe this was happening. “And the baby is mine?”
“Yes Gage. I’m not a slut,” Natalya said defensively.
Gage began pacing around the room. “I didn’t say you were,” he exclaimed. “I just… wow! Natalya… this is a lot to take in.”
“It’s a lot to take in?” she sounded about ready to cry. “I’ve been carrying this bugger inside me for almost seventeen weeks. I’m too old to have a kid.”
And I’m too young, he thought darkly. Natalya was pregnant, and the child was his, and this would change everything for him… and Kass. Should he move to Califorsimia or did she want him to come to Alasimka? Or maybe he should bring Natalya here?
“Say something,” she demanded.
“I’m thinking,” he said, harsher than he meant.
He could Natalya crying.
“Nat, I’m sorry, I just… I thought I’d have more time.”
“More time? What? Is this like the most inconvenient thing ever? It’s too late to get rid of it!”
“No… no… don’t get rid of the child!” he yelled.
“Well, I’m not keeping it,” she snapped.
“What? No! I mean… you can’t,” his heart sank to the floor, and he felt a pit in his stomach the size of Illinoisim.
“I already spoke to several adoption agencies. I picked up paperwork two days ago. I just thought you should know,” she explained. “I don’t expect anything from you. I just… they’ll want you to sign the papers… since you are the biological dad, but if it’s too inconvenient for you to get here, I can just say I don’t know where you are.”
“You just thought I should know?” he repeated, in total shock. “Natalya, we need to talk about this. You cannot just give up our child… my child…”
“Why not?” she wailed. “Gage, you haven’t been around. You haven’t had this thing… this parasite growing inside you. Gawd! Gage, I feel awful. And my doctor said I’ll be lucky if I deliver on time and healthy.”
“Look…look…look. I know I haven’t been around. I tried contacting you and couldn’t find you. You could’ve contacted me sooner. I want to be there for you… for the baby… for this new phase of our lives together. This child is as much mine as it is yours and I’ll be damned if I don’t come out there and help you out during this time. I want this… Natalya. I can be out there today if you want me to be. Or do you want to come here?”
“Gage, I don’t want you to do anything, except say you’ll sign the papers. I don’t want this child and I don’t want you,” Natalya said, harshly. “I’m old enough to be your mom. You don’t want to be with me any more than I want to be with you. And you don’t want to raise this baby.”
“And what if I do? Natalya, you have to give me a chance. You have to at least let me fly there and talk with you. Tell me where you’re staying, please,” he begged.
“No, Gage… I’m sorry. I can’t. This is for the best. No one ever has to know. You can go on living your life and forget about me and this kid. My attorney will send you the paperwork. Just do me a favor and sign the damn things, okay?”
With that, the line went dead and Gage felt like something had died inside him also. He was so close. So close to perfection. To happiness. And now this? A baby? A baby? His baby! His and Natalya’s baby! That changed everything. He frowned, and slid to the floor, leaning his head against the banister. He couldn’t just sign his name away on a dotted line and let his child go like that without seeing him… or her… or whomever the baby would be first. He couldn’t just go on living with Kass and pretend like never happened. He couldn’t be in a relationship with the woman of his dreams if his own blood was out there somewhere raised by someone else. He couldn’t do that to his child. Not after everything he had been through. He knew what it was like to grow up without his biological parents. He knew what foster care was like, and he knew an adoption was no guarantee that the child would have a healthy, safe, loving family and a great life. He couldn’t guarantee that. He knew nothing about this agency Natalya wanted to go through, or about the attorney, or about his legal rights. They couldn’t just do this to him, could they? They couldn’t force him to give up his own flesh and blood, right?
“Damn it!” he cried out and slammed his fist into the wooden floor, and hit the back of his head repeatedly against the railing bars.
Life just wasn’t fair. There was no such thing as a marshmallow world where everything was beautiful and perfect and cozy, where sweethearts got to be together, and babies were born the way they were supposed to into families that loved them and wanted them. He knew what he had to do.
Gage slipped into the bedroom, and noticed Kass was still sleeping. He wandered to the dresser and heaved a sigh as he opened the drawer and grabbed a few clothes, shoving them into his bag beneath the bed. He knew how to pack light. This was his life. Moving around with little notice. He sat on the edge of the bed, and clicked through his phone, finding the airline website, and booking himself on the next flight to Belladonna Cove. With silent sobs, he kissed Kass on the forehead and she stirred slightly. Too chicken to actually face her, he walked into the bathroom to grab a shower before he had to leave.
Twenty minutes later, he trudged down the steps, knowing this would be the final time for awhile. His heart pounded and his breath was ragged as he thought about what he was about to do – break Kass’ heart. She was sitting on the couch, waiting patiently for him to emerge, and she had a bucket of ice cream sitting on the coffee table – chocolate caramel surprise.
“I know…I know…” she put up her hands. “I know. Guilty! But ice cream for breakfast just sounded like a great way to start a new year, right?”
Kass stood to her feet, and planted a warm kiss on his lips. Gage jerked away. He couldn’t do this to her. He couldn’t lead her on anymore.
Gage plunked down on the couch and waved his arms.
“I am going to have a baby!” he said, bluntly.
Her eyes widened and her mouth puckered in shock. “What?” her confused look melted into a teasing smile. “Were you abducted by aliens last night?”
“That’s not funny,” he grunted.
“Well… you said you’re going to have a baby…and we haven’t… I mean… you and I haven;t…so that’s not possible,” she said.
“Yes, but I have with others. Many many others,” he confessed. “Oh Kass… I haven’t exactly been a monk. I’ve been out there foolishly…damnit!” he pounded the couch with his fist. “…sleeping around, trying to find the perfect life… the perfect woman to love me… a home… a family… and oh gawd!” he rubbed the back of his head. “…I wished for it. I wished for it. With the sim’jinn. I wanted to know how to please a woman, and I have… I have please women. Many women. Oh I’m such a jerk for telling you all this.”
Kass just stared into the air, and he couldn’t tell if it was from shock or because she was upset.
“…and I wished for… to be irresistible… and I think I have been. I mean, I’ve gotten every woman I wanted, even you.”
She narrowed her eyes, but still didn’t speak.
“…I mean, I only wanted you. I really only wanted you…” he turned to face her and took her hands in his wishing he could squeeze her until she believed him but he knew the truth didn’t work like that. “I only wanted you..” his voice dropped to a sad whisper. “I should’ve waited for you, I know that now, but I didn’t and now I’m asking you to wait for me.”
“This isn’t fair,” she bit out.
“No, I know it’s not. Kass, I’m sorry. I’ve been with so many women, and I wished to be irresistible. It was a stupid boy’s dream. I was so stupid. And all this time, I wanted a home and a family, and now…” he chuckled ironically. “Now I have one. Natalya’s pregnant. She’s pregnant. And she needs me. I need to go. I need to go and make things right. I need to go be with the mother of my child. Can you forgive me? Please say you forgive me?”
“Gage, what do you expect me to say?” Kass asked, horrified.
“I don’t know. I don’t know,” he groaned. “I just… I want things to be okay between us. I want you to… will you wait for me?”
“That’s not fair,” she spat out.
“Please… I love… I love you…” he pleaded.
“Gage, you having a kid,” Kass threw her hands in the air. “Natalya is going to have a baby. You’re going to have a whole new life ahead of you. A whole life with new responsibilities and new directions, and where would I fit? I can’t be a mother,” she said, looking almost disgusted. “I can’t be a mother to your kid. And what about Natalya?”
“I know,” he sighed. “But you could stay here. Until I know things are okay and I’ll come back. I’ll probably only be gone a week or so. And you can stay here. I’ll pay the rent. You don’t have to worry about anything. You can stay here…” he lifted his hand and caressed her cheek. “And we can talk…and Simype every day and we can figure this out…together.”
“Gage, you need to figure things out with her,” Kass leaped to her feet. “…and I can’t wait. I won’t wait,” she hiked her chin in the air. “This isn’t fair to me and you know it.”
“Well, you don’t have to be a jerk back about it,” he said, his heart plummeting to the floor.
“What? Me? A jerk? Maybe I’m being selfish by refusing to wait for you, but Gage, you are being selfish asking me to wait for you while you fly around the country and figure stuff out with your baby mama and what? I’m just supposed to welcome you back with open arm, kid and diapers in tow? And what? Wait here… in this house…” she looked up at the ceiling. “…of another woman in your life… and with your…” she pointed over to Tigris and Euphrates curled up in the chair by the fireplace. “…other woman’s cats? And what about my dad? And my travels with him? And he’s got EXCES, Gage! I’ve got that to worry about! And my sisters and I might too. I might… lose him… and he needs someone to take care of him. And we can’t just stay here in Anita’s or whatever her name is house until you figure things out.”
“It sounds pretty freaking ridiculous now that you say it that way,” Gage hung his head.
“Gage, we tried and obviously the universe is against us. We’re not meant to be.”
“Don’t say that!”
“No, Gage, you don’t get to say you love me and then back out on me like this.”
“Me back out? No! I’m still in. I’m still in if you are.”
“Gage, I can’t.”
“Why? I know it’s weird, but if you’re committed to this relationship, we’ll find a way.”
“You can’t have your cake and eat it too!”
“Kassiopeia, I love you. I always have and always will, and I don’t want to lose you over this. Please don’t let me lose you over this. I can’t bear to lose my best friend all over again.”
“Gage, I’ll still be your friend…”
“But this is just too much for me to process right now. I need time.”
“Are we breaking up?”
“Well, it’s best, I think so…so….yeah.”
“Kass, please, don’t do this. Come on, honey, we can make things work. We can talk through things. We weathered a thousand storms and we can weather a thousand more. We worked through your dad leaving and your dad coming back and your mom’s depression and my losing my foster mom and through the Davis issue.”
“The Davis issue?” she frowned, and pulled her hand back from his. “Davis wasn’t an issue.”
“Well, you know what I mean. You dated him and then you broke up with him after you found out about his past and all that shit and then you chose me.”
“Gage, it didn’t work like that,” she shook her head, her eyes filling with tears. “It was complicated. Davis and I. I…he…I…really cared about him. And well… I treated him horribly, and our night at the beach and in my grandparents’ house was wrong.”
“What? Kass? You had broken up with him by then.”
“Yes but hopping into bed with you didn’t help matters and it wasn’t fair to either of you.”
“We didn’t exactly have sex.”
“Yes, but we slept together…and we slept together again last night…” she took a step back and released a cry. “I was a jerk to him. A complete and total jerk. He didn’t deserve that. And I don’t deserve this.”
“But he had lied to you. He married a prostitute.”
“Yes, Gage, but is that something you’d just up and volunteer to a person you had just met and were getting to know?” she asked.
“Yes, because I believe in being honest.”
“Oh! So what was that little confession of yours just now? You’ve slept with hundreds of women!” she threw her hands in the air.
“I didn’t say hundreds,” he grit his teeth.
“You slept with all those women, and you were engaged to one of them, and I’m betting you slept with the woman whose house we’re standing in right now. And Constance too.”
“I have not slept with Constance!” he shouted.
“Yeah, but you’ve slept with every other woman in the Midwest,” she shrieked.
“No, I didn’t tell you how many. I’ve slept with six,” he balled his fists. “And haven’t you been with someone?”
“Yeah, Billy!” she snapped.
His jaw dropped. Billy? His boss, Billy?
“And he was a jackass to me, and we were physical, but I didn’t sleep with him… well, I did…but not like that… not like sex,” she fumbled awkwardly. “It wasn’t like that. I mean, we didn’t have sex.”
“You slept with Billy? You dated Billy?” he seemed dumbfounded.
“Yes, what the hell is wrong with that? You were with what? Six women you said?”
“Yeah, I didn’t expect you to be a nun. I know it’s not fair of me to hope that you waited for me after Davis because of all the women I’ve been with. I’m not perfect, Kass. But none of those women… were you…”
“But you got one of them pregnant!” she cried. “And you neglected to tell me this right away when we first started dating so you’re no different than Davis.”
“No,, I didn’t know, honestly, not until this morning, ” he said hoarsely.. “And I’m nothing like Davis. I have years of memories and experiences with you. I’ve helped you through your darkest days. Kass, I know you. I know what you wish for and what you hope for and what your fears and insecurities are. I know how to make you laugh and smile…”
“And how to make me cry,” she said sadly.
“Oh Kass,” he pulled both her hands into his, and looked up into her eyes with earnest desperation. “Honey…I didn’t want to hurt you. I didn’t plan to hurt you. I want you. I need you in my life. I’ve always wanted you. And I’ve loved you from the moment I laid eyes on you. And I thought you loved me.”
“But I don’t,” she threw his hands aside like one would toss a tissue into a trash can.
Gage stood, stunned. He literally could not believe the words that just came out of his best friend and girlfriend’s mouth. She didn’t mean that. She couldn’t mean that.
“Gage, I…” her voice cracked. “…I don’t love you… not like that… not like you want me to. I’m not in love with you, but I do love you, as a friend… and I think I could grow to love you.”
The situation was déjà vu. Gage recalled saying the very same words to Anita a week ago. Were his words coming back to bite him?
“But…” she continued.
Always a but.
“You have big things to worry about now, and you have…someone who needs you…” she smiled weakly. “…and that’s not me. It’s the mother of your baby to be.”
I should go and be with her.
“You should go and be with her,” Kass said, as if reading his thoughts. “And me…”
I won’t forget about you. I won’t stop loving you, Kass, he balled his fists, trying to avoid crying.
“You should forget about me, because…”
No, she said the same words as Anita.
“…because we’re not meant to be. We’re just circling the drain here, Gage. And it’s not fair to either of us to hold onto a ship that’s going under whether we like it or not.”
Be careful what you wish for, he thought, feeling depressed, hearing the taxi cab honk its horn outside the house. He knew he needed to go. He hated leaving on this note. Maybe he was wrong. Maybe he wasn’t breaking Kass’ heart. Maybe she was breaking his.
They walked to the door, and he couldn’t even look at Kass when he promised to call her.
“Not as a boyfriend…” he added, begrudgingly. “Just a friend.”
“I’d…like that…”she sniffled, and he realized this was hard for her too, just not in the same way. “I still want to be your friend.”
He couldn’t bear to look at her. If he looked at Kassiopeia, he would lose his nerve and he wouldn’t be able to go, and he needed to go.
“Gage?” she called after him, her voice breaking up. “Will you hug me goodbye?”
He stopped on the porch, his feet shoulder-width apart, his luggage in his one hand and his other arm swinging free. While her tone was sweet and gentle, and he could hear the sadness in her voice. He felt as if his whole marshmallow fluff world had let him down and he was rolling around on spikes instead.
That’s the real world, he gritted his teeth. Poke your eyes out and eat your heart alive.
He couldn’t turn back. His heart wouldn’t let him.
“No,” he said, coldly.
His response was met with silence as he walked across the porch, down the steps, through the snow, and got into the taxi cab, not once looking back. There was no such thing as a real marshmallow world.
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