“Where the hell were you?”
Jennifer Pleasant waved her arms in a frenzied fury as she chewed out her best friend on the porch of the Crumplebottom Estates. Bella didn’t even have time to explain before Jennifer continued with a string of expletives, grating on her ears. Jennifer never swore. Jennifer was pissed.
“You were supposed to work my shift at the law library yesterday,” Jennifer continued. “And then you didn’t show up. And now… I hope whoever it was that you were doing was worth it because I lost my job.”
“Jennifer!” Bella shouted.
She couldn’t believe how insensitive her friend was. She didn’t realize Jennifer knew.
“Oh yeah, I know,” Jennifer made a face. “I know about the men. Well, at least one of them. Malcolm Landgrabb the fourth, huh?”
Bella’s eyes widened in shock.
“And I know about Mortimer too… I mean, did you really think you could hide an engagement contract from me?” Jennifer snarled.
“Jennifer, calm down… what in Simterra has gotten into you?” Bella threw up her hands defensively, trying to avoid discussing the men in her life.
“I lost my job, Bella,” Jennifer shrieked. “I lost my job and now I can’t pay for law school.”
Bella sighed. “You can get another job, Jen.”
Jennifer balled her fists. “Seriously? I can get another job? Bella, it’s not that easy. The law library was willing to work with my schedule. I’m taking twenty-one credits this year to finish early so I can move with John to Simbernia in the spring.”
“Wait, John’s moving to Simbernia in the spring? You’re moving to Simbernia?” Bella exclaimed.
A hand smacked across her face. Bella’s cheek smarted, and she narrowed her eyes. She didn’t think she warranted a slap.
“Maribella Madelyn Bachelor! I can’t believe you’re my best friend. You don’t know anything, do you?” Jennifer cried. “And you’re so wrapped up in your selfish ways and your sleeping around with various guys that you don’t care one iota about me or anyone but yourself. So who were you with last night? Malcolm or Mortimer?”
Bella grunted. “Neither. Okay. I wasn’t with any guy last night. I didn’t sleep with anyone last night. I swear. I was in an accident on Friday night, and I hit my head.”
“You were what?” Jennifer’s eyes widened, her demeanor shifting. “I don’t believe you.”
“Fine, don’t believe me!” Bella spat out, and then slumped. “But it’s the truth. Look, I’m sorry, Jenni that I cost you your job. I can go and talk to your boss if you want. I’m sorry if you think I’ve been a terrible friend. I’m sorry that you think I don’t care about anyone but myself. I’m sorry. Jennifer. Look, I’m really sorry.”
“Sorry doesn’t cut it,” Jennifer stomped her foot. “I want my friend back.”
“I’m here,” Bella reached out and grabbed her friend’s shoulders. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
Jennifer leaned forward, angry tears splashing her cheeks, and she dropped her arms defeated. “You were really in an accident?”
Yeah, we’ll call it that.
“Yes, and I was unconscious for awhile.”
Jennifer gasped. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” Bella rubbed the back of her neck sheepishly. “Look, I’m sorry about everything. Will you forgive me? Are we still friends?”
Jennifer eyed her friend sharply. “Yes…” she conceded. “I forgive you. Though I don’t know how I’ll pay for law school,” she admitted sadly. “I can barely afford to move to Simbernia.” Seeing Bella’s confused look, she added, “John was accepted to the agricultural engineering program at Trinity College in Dragon Valley. I thought I told you.”
“No,” Bella shook her head. “I don’t think you did.”
“Yes I did,” Jennifer threw her hands up frustrated. “Bella, you just don’t listen. And you’re never around, it feels like.”
“I’m sorry. We’re both seniors… I’m busy. You’re busy. And sounds like you’re really busy because you’re moving to Simbernia in the spring… with John. I didn’t think you had it in you,” Bella smiled slyly.
“We’re getting married, Bella,” Jennifer sighed heavily.
“What?” Bella’s jaw dropped open.
“Yes, and you would know that if you bothered to check,” Jennifer wailed. “I wouldn’t go to Simbernia with him if we weren’t married. I want to do things right. We’re getting married right after Christmas.”
“Oh wow!” Bella ran a hand through her hair, nervously. “I’m sorry, Jenni. I should have talked with you more recently. Are you going to go to law school there?”
“I planned to start a year from now, but not if I can’t afford it since I lost my job thanks to you,” Jennifer punched Bella in the arm.
“Ow!” Bella rubbed her shoulder. “Seriously, Jennifer, you’ll get another job. Companies will be lining up to accept your application. You’re bright and talented.”
“I’m killing myself trying to finish on time and for what? I won’t be able to afford the life I want now,” Jennifer exhaled in exhaustion. “Not everyone has a benefactor like you do.”
Bella flinched, thinking of Mortimer. It was true. She wouldn’t be here at Sim State University without him. She also wouldn’t be getting married herself without him.
“Are you really going to marry the guy?” Jennifer asked with a whimpering sigh.
“Honestly?” Bella trailed off.
I don’t know.
“How did you know?”
“Your mom told me everything.”
“You talk with Jocasta now?”
“She’s worried about you.”
“Oh really? How come she never talks to me then?”
Bella had a hard time believing her mother was scared of anything. She stuck her hand on her waist, and jutted her hip.
“Obviously not scared to talk to you and tell someone else everything about my personal business,” Bella grumbled.
“I think she wanted you to have a friend,” Jennifer said softly.
“I’m touched,” Bella rolled her eyes.
“Seriously, Bella, your mom is… she thinks she’s doing what’s best for you… but she’s ashamed of her decisions and she can’t face you,” Jennifer explained.
“Then she should come tell me this herself,” Bella huffed. “Because honestly, she’s pretty much dead to me.”
“Bella!” Jennifer gasped, her eyes filled with sadness. “Don’t say that.”
“What? She hasn’t really seen me or spoken to me in years. Not since she made the deal with the devil in the handsome grey suit,” Bella said. “Who marries their daughter off to a stranger for money? This isn’t the dark ages.”
“But I thought you loved him,” Jennifer protested. “Or do you love Malcolm?”
“How do you know about Malcolm?” Bella glared at her friend.
“Bella… people have seen you on campus. You’re not as discreet as you think,” Jennifer sighed. “You know, I don’t get you…” she flailed her arms. “You have everything, Bella. Brains. Beauty. Men fawning over you. A fully paid for education with room and board. And a guy who wants to marry you and take care of you and your family for the rest of your life. You are risking everything for a silly affair that won’t last because I know he’s engaged too. And you act all ungrateful and hostile toward your parents, but they’re just trying to look out for you and give you a future.”
Bella puckered her lips, a sour expression crossing her face. “You have no idea.”
“No, I don’t. I really don’t,” Jennifer said tiredly. “But I thought as my friend, you’d at least have the decency to talk to me and give me an idea… so I don’t have to learn about these kinds of things from Jocasta.”
Bella frowned. “I’m sorry.”
“Yeah, I guess you are. I just don’t know if you’re sorry you got caught and I know or if you’re really sorry for screwing with people’s lives,” Jennifer bit out, and she whirled to storm into the house. Her hand lingered on the door handle. “And you should call Daniel. He’s been worried about you too. You should go see him, actually.”
“Why?” Bella rolled her eyes, figuring she had enough of the Pleasant siblings for the day.
“Because the funeral’s today.”
Daniel stood on the lawn of the Urele-Oreshe-Cham House in his blue fraternity jacket, blue sweater, white collared shirt, and dark jeans. He stood, his arms hanging limply at his sides, his hands hovering a few inches from his legs, as he heaved a shuddering sob. Bella hesitated, wondering if she should approach. Jennifer had explained his lover had died. It happened suddenly in the night. The beloved philosophy professor had a heart attack while reading by the fire. Daniel had been present. Bella shuddered. It must have been a nightmare for him.
She couldn’t believe how out of the loop she really was. She had been angry with Jennifer for accusing her of blowing off the job for Malcolm, but the truth was she hadn’t seen him since last spring, since their argument on the central quad. Even so, Bella had buried herself in homework, taking summer classes to avoid another forced vacation in Simspania. That wasn’t the entire reason she stayed on campus. She had hoped to see Emit, but after several days passed, she went to find him in his dorm.
The resident assistant said he moved out for the summer months and was visiting family up north. Bella didn’t even think he had any family on the planet. After several weeks passed, she realized she wasn’t going to hear from him after that night when they had kissed in his dorm room after he had confessed everything.
Bella returned to the Landgrabb Boarding House, came up with some story to be let into his room, and sat on his couch where their make-out session had happened. Nothing more had happened. Emit was a perfect gentleman. He wanted to protect her virtue. He had even said something to that effect this morning when they sat in the lounge. She found herself drawn to the man. She had been about to leave his room when she discovered a leather strand peeking up from the couch cushions. Upon tugging, she discovered a leather journal stuffed into the couch bed. Curiosity got the better of her and she began leafing through the pages.
By the time she finished, Bella was crying. He wrote with such passion and with such lyrical vocabulary. It was as if he picked the most beautiful words in Simlish and strung them together, composing a masterpiece. He wrote about his agony, about his loathing of himself for abandoning his cause, about his hatred for the pain he had caused on behalf of his people. He wrote about his adjustment to the world and how he craved the life of a simple man and the love of one woman. He wrote about her… about her beauty and his unworthiness to touch the soles of her feet. He called her his angel, and in his last entry, he spoke of his infuriating desire to kiss her lips, and how she had obliged… and now… how he could not be with her, but he was still bound to her. She had sobbed, feeling so incredibly loved by a man she barely knew, by a man who was not human. She wondered where her heart had been all this time.
Bella had spent the summer, trying desperately to find him, and holding vigil for him in case he returned. This morning was the first time she had seen his face since he left, and she was so overwhelmed. How could she tell him she knew? That she knew about the words he wrote? About how he felt? About how she read his journal? She felt a guilty stab of pain, realizing her obsession for Emit had caused her to abandon all others. She had neglected to call her parents, see her brother, and talk with Jennifer, Daniel, or any of her other friends. She had neglected everyone… to her detriment. And now, Daniel was grieving the loss of a man he cared deeply for, and she had to force herself to think about him.
“Danny?” she called out softly.
“Oh Bella,” he whirled and crushed her to himself, crying into her shoulder.
“I’m sorry… I…uh… haven’t been around,” she said, awkwardly. “I feel terrible. I’m so sorry for your loss.”
“Bells, I’m just…” Daniel released another pained sigh. “…so glad you came.”
“I’m sorry. I just… Jennifer just told me… and um… I feel bad… I don’t even know when the service is.”
Daniel looked mournful. “It is tonight at nine. The dean of the university wanted the students to be out of night class in case they wanted to come.”
“And you… you were with him?” she bit out, feeling uncomfortable.
She had no idea what to say.
“I’m so sorry.”
Daniel plunked down on the fraternity steps, dropping his arms over his knees. Bella slid next to him, bracing against the stone foundation.
“It was awful, Bells,” he cried. “I just… I didn’t think it was possible to feel this much.”
“Did you love him?” she whispered.
“Yes,” he said, his eyes brimming with tears.
“Can I ask you a strange question?” she frowned.
He gulped, and nodded.
“How did you know?”
“Know that you…loved… him?”
Daniel sighed, running a hand through his red hair. “Well… I just did. I felt it… in every fiber of my being…”
“Just like that?” she inquired, feeling heat rushing through her veins at the very thought of love.
“Yeah, I just knew in my heart, in my head, in my gut… everywhere really… that I loved him.”
“And did he love you?”
Daniel lowered his head. “I don’t know,” he said quietly. “In his own way. But he was still married to his wife. And he loved her very much too.”
“I’m sorry,” Bella bit her lip. “I shouldn’t have asked that.”
“No,” he shook his head with a sad smile. “It’s okay. Say… will you stay with me tonight?”
“Here?” she squeaked.
“Yeah,” he reached for her hand. “I don’t want to be alone.”
“Danny…” she hesitated.
A part of her wanted to comfort him. Another part figured she should steer clear of her longtime crush.
“I don’t think I should.”
“Please, Bella, I need you.”
“Daniel, I think you need time to mourn…”
“I don’t want to be alone.”
“Danny, I’ll go to the funeral with you, but then I think you need some time,” she said quietly, lifting her hands to her chest as she started down the cobblestone walkway.
“Please, Bella, stay… I love… you…” he croaked.
What? He couldn’t be saying these things. His lover had just died.
“And I’ve been a fool. I should’ve told you sooner.”
“Daniel, are you drunk?”
“Well, then you’re grieving. Grief makes you say and do funny things.”
“I’m in my right mind, Bella. I know what I said and I mean it. I love you. I have always loved you, I think, but it took until Sam’s death for me to have the courage to say these things aloud. I know you are lonely as hell just like I am. We’ve both been lonely for a decade and now we finally have a chance to really be together.”
“Danny, that’s not fair.”
“But now that you’re not with Malcolm anymore and Sam is…” his voice cracked. gone… do you think? Do you think you could love me, Bella?”
His words tugged at her strings, and she hesitated. She could stay. But she didn’t want to give him the wrong idea. How could he say he loved her? How could he say this now? When her heart belonged to another man, and her ring finger belonged to yet another?
“I’m sorry, Danny.”