1.41 Troubles Will Be Miles Away (FRWL)

Author Note: This is the last chapter of From Riverview, With Love. I really hope you enjoyed Gage’s journey from summer until winter. This is a bittersweet moment for me as Gage has grown to be a very special character of mine. I am sad to finish, but it is time, and I’m ready to move onto additional Sim story projects that need completion. Without further adieu, the final chapter.


As the taxi zigzagged through Riverview,Gage struggled to gain control over his emotions. He had just lost his best friend, probably for good, because he just couldn’t bring himself to hug her. He knew she was devastated. At least, she wanted to be his friend. Gage wasn’t sure he could do that. If he couldn’t be with her, he didn’t want to be in her life. It was too painful.

The music played from the stereo, and Gage found the lyrics ironic.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
From now on, our troubles will be out of sight
Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Make the Yuletide gay
From now on, our troubles will be miles away

“I wish,” Gage grumbled.

“I’m sorry, sir, what did you say?” the driver inquired, with a thick Championne accent.

“Nothing,” Gage replied.

I could’ve flown to Champs les Sims for the new year with Kassiopeia instead of being in Riverview to get that phone call. Gage bopped himself in the head. You idiot! Be real! He knew he had to face the consequences of his actions. The driver had to back up and try and get around another route when they ran into the new year’s day parade in downtown Riverview.

“Sorry sir,” he mumbled with a thick Championne accent.

“No worries,” Gage folded his arms over his chest and slouched.

He didn’t have to be at the Simcago Metropolitan Airport until three p.m., but he didn’t want to wait around the house after the way he had left things with Kass. He figured it was best he left immediately. She didn’t love him anyway.

Here we are as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us once more
Through the years we all will be together
If the fates allow
So hang a shining star upon the highest bough
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now

“Oh pull over,” he grunted to the driver.

“Sure, right away, sir,” the driver mumbled, turning the wheel to the side and pulling along the side of the curb outside the Riverwalk Park. “Do you want me to wait?”

“Do what you want!” Gage snipped, throwing the guy a twenty Simoleon note and slamming the car door.

“But sir!” the man called, but Gage didn’t bother to wait.

He had to get out of the confined space. He had to think and clear his head. He had to get away from the words, “have yourself a merry little Christmas…” repeating over and over again.

“Gah!” Gage yelled as he kicked a black metal trash receptacle out of frustration.

Everything had been so perfect. He leaned his head back, and closed his eyes, feeling soft snowflakes fall on his face. He lifted his arms, opening himself to the universe. Why? he cried internally. Why, damnit! Why! Somehow he knew why. He knew the logistics of the matter. Boy meets girl. Boy is drunk. Girl is drunk. Boy and girl sleep together. Boy and girl make a baby. But what he didn’t understand was how his heart kept getting trampled. There was only so much he could manage to bear.

Gage plopped onto a frozen winter bench, spotting the taxi along the curb. The guy hadn’t driven away, and he figured it was because Gage’s luggage was in the trunk. It’s just stuff, he shrugged. It didn’t matter. Stuff was replaceable. Family? Love? That wasn’t. Living in foster care for as long as he did, growing up in the system, Gage knew that at a moments notice, he might have to move and so he had let go of stuff for the most part… until recently. With Anita, he had the promise of a lover, a potential future wife, and a home, but she had to go to Simspania and he didn’t resent her for leaving. Kass, on the other hand, nothing was ever for sure with her. It was part of what made her exciting, Gage figured as he wiggled his feet, his legs buried in snow up to his mid shin. She was here one day, in the moment, and then gone the next, as if she couldn’t make up her mind about him. He knew exactly how he felt about Kassiopeia, but he knew, somehow he knew, deep in his heart, she didn’t know and she didn’t feel the same way.

Natalya didn’t want him. Lakshmi wasn’t an option. Soléi didn’t want him. Heather didn’t want him. Cerise wasn’t an option. Nalea didn’t want him. Anita did want him, but he didn’t want her in the same way. It was as if the universe was paying him back ten-fold for his mistakes, and for his inability to commit to a single woman, even though he had desperately wanted to.

 

Gage?”

He could hear her voice, but his face was focused upon the snow-covered plants before his eyes. He was wishing he could melt right into the ground as if he had never existed.

“Gage?”

He heard his name repeated, and he choked back a cry.

“Oh, I’m delusional,” he rubbed the back of his head.

“I seriously hope not,” came the reply. “Or I’ll have to drive you to the emergency room.”

Gage looked up at Constance, his face flushing a thousand shades of red.

“Oh…er…uh…sorry… I was in my head,” he stammered.

“Aren’t we all?” she teased lightly. “But I know what you mean.”

“Leaving town?” she inquired.

Gage snapped his eyes to Constance as she sat on the bench, his hands raising slightly on his legs. How does she do that? Like read my mind? 

“How did you know?” he asked.

“Oh… I saw you stomp out of the taxi, kick the trash can, and sit your butt down on this freezing cold bench just to brood,” she replied. “I’m not judging. I’ve done it too.”

“You saw that?” he winced. “Ugh… yeah… I’m having a bad day. But I don’t know how that equates to leaving town.”

“Because I did the same thing before I left Riverview for the first time,” Constance replied.

He arched a brow. “Oh? Really?”

“Yeah… I was…brokenhearted. A guy I cared deeply about told me that he didn’t care for me in the same way and I hopped in a taxi determined to leave town before I got so frustrated about being trapped inside a vehicle that I leaped out and ran around the park for a few hours,” Constance admitted, almost humorously. Only difference is I was in the main square and I’m sure about a dozen and a half people saw my tirade against the wall adverts on the side of EverFresh Delight Supermarket and a couple kicks to the trash cans,” Constance laughed wryly. “And… I think I scared a few pigeons.”

Gage gave her a half-smile. So her circumstances weren’t all that different from his own, except for one glaring thing.

“So why are ya leaving?” she asked, interlocking her fingers behind her head.

“Your pants… they’re getting stained…” he glanced at the snow, avoiding the question.

“Aw…nuts…well, I’m used to it,” Constance leaned forward and looked before returning to a relaxed position. “I’ve got more dress pants at my house. So tell me… what’s sending you running away from Riverview?”

“I’m not running away!” he yelled. “I have to leave…” he felt a sharp stab in his heart at the pain of saying the words aloud. “I don’t have a choice.”

Constance puzzled for a moment. “You always have a choice.”

“But I don’t. I don’t, Constance, you don’t understand. I wished to know how to please women, and I got plenty of women. I wished to be irresistible and I was. I wished for a home and a family, and I got the home part, and I’m getting a family. But I didn’t realize that by wishing for that, I might actually get what I wished for, and it might not be in the way I expected,” Gage lamented. “All I wanted was to be happy and to have a place of my own and people to love me. Isn’t that what everyone wants?”

“I finally had a house. I had the love of my life. I was happy for a moment. And then I found out I’m going to be a dad. A woman I was with at the beginning of summer is pregnant,” Gage confessed. “There are consequences for everything, aren’t there, Constance?”

“Well, it depends. Do you view this as a consequence or a blessing?” she asked.

“I want to do the right thing. I need to go to her. I want to take care of this child because I know what it’s like to feel…unwanted…” he chewed his lower lip. “…but it just comes at the worst time. I finally had Kass and now I’ve lost her.”

Constance sat still, appearing to contemplate what he had said.

“I’m thinking maybe I should call every woman I ever slept with and make sure I don’t have any more surprise kids,” he chuckled wryly.

“Are you okay?” she asked, surprising him.

He had half-expected condemnation or pity, but instead she seemed genuinely concerned.

“I think so… I will be…Oh I don’t know. I’m going to be a dad. I have to go back home and face the music. What am I saying? Go back home?” he threw his hands in the air. “This is my home now, or so I thought. I haven’t been back to Sunset Valley since July of last year. I so badly wanted to make this place my home and now I’m forced to leave it and everyone I love here behind. And I wanted a home so badly and a family, but not like this.”

“Home is where the heart is,” Constance said softly.

“What?” he blinked rapidly.

“Your heart…” she leaned forward and laid her palm against his chest, and he was afraid she could feel the pounding and sense every bit of his emotional distraught. “…your home is where your heart is. If your ex-girlfriend or whomever is having a baby, then your family and home are with them.”

“It’s not that simple,” he grunted.

“Yes, yes it is,” Constance stated purposefully. “The baby’s heart is beating because of you, because of an intentional decision you made, but this doesn’t have to be a negative consequence. It only is if you view it that way. A baby, a new life, is a beautiful blessing… and I know, Gage, after everything you’ve been through, you’ll be a wonderful dad.”

“You think so?” he tilted his head, a lump forming in his throat.

The taxi horn honked, drawing him back into the moment, and he realized he should probably go get in the cab or get his luggage and hail another one.

“I know so,” Constance bobbed her head up and down. “Now go. Be with your heart.”

Gage didn’t realize he was crying until he was in the taxi cab, pulling away from the curb. He resisted the urge to glance back and wave at Constance, his lovely knight in a gray-blazer-and-suit pants-armor. Some day he would have to repay her, but for now… for now…he was going away. He was going home.


Author Note: The End. For now. Gage will make appearances in future Kassiopeia stories, and possibly gain himself another spin-off because I’ve been so blessed to write his story, and he’s wiggled his way into my heart. I hope you enjoyed this bittersweet ending. 

Previous Chapter: Interlude: The Very Next Day [Kass]

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Interlude: The Very Next Day (FRWL) [Kass]

Kass blinked as the sudden light leafing through the the curtains filtered across her freckled face. As she turned on her side, she realized Gage was no longer in the bed, and she didn’t have to strain her ears to hear the water running in the bathroom. Ah! He’s showering, a sleepy smile stretched across her face. Absently, she laid a hand on his pillow. Last night, sleeping in his arms had been comfortable, more so than she cared to admit. She was starting to wonder what was keeping her from falling in love with the guy. Flopping onto her back, she lifted an arm to her forehead, and remembered exactly what was keeping her from feeling for someone. Davis. She pinched the bridge of her nose and sat up, self-consciously covering her breasts even if she was wearing her Edgewater Saints tee shirt and shorts. She half-expected her blonde-haired, blue-eyed ex-boyfriend to be staring at her disappointed from the doorway. Thankfully, he was not.

But ghosts of memories are, she dangled her legs off the side of the bed.  Kass wondered what it meant when she had been with two guys, one who was fantastically passionate, even if he was a jackass, and the other who was in love with her, adorably so, and neither one of them could satisfy the longings of her heart. Is it because I always want what I cannot have? she thought abysmally. She lingered on the bed, wiggling her toes, as she tried to figure out how she was going to explain her feelings to Gage.

He was a great guy. A wonderful guy. A sweet guy. He had made Christmas magical for her. She hadn’t recalled being that happy in a long time. But something was off… something was missing. Her heart was somewhere else, and it wasn’t fair to him. She felt like she was lying to herself if she believed she loved Gage now. After all the nice things he had done for her, after hugging her and kissing her, and rescuing her last night, after sharing a bed together once more, she didn’t know if she could tell him the truth.

When her feet hit the wooden floorboards, Kass stood with purpose and determination. I will be honest with him, she walked to the window, and glanced out at the frozen wonderland and the families running about and playing in the field across the street. One of the kids stopped, his eyes widening, but then he looked up and laughed, waving to Kass. She gasped, whirling quickly, and leaning against the wall out of site. I’m dressed. What am I so freaked out about? she chided herself. She should at least figure out what she had done with her bra. She couldn’t very well wander downstairs and face her dad without that essential piece of lingerie. I will be honest with Gage, she told herself forcefully as she yawned and stretched, walking over to grab her bra from the rocking chair. After I’ve had a cup of coffee. 

Unfortunately for Kass, the coffee maker wasn’t working. She flipped the switch several times, confirming her suspicions. The room had experienced some kind of brown-out. Come to think of it, the refrigerator isn’t humming either. Kass reached into the freezer, and pulled out a bucket of chocolate caramel ice cream. Right as she did, as if expecting something, Tigris and Euphrates curled around her ankles, meowing and purring.

“Aw,” she said, picking up Euphrates and kissing him between his ears. “You want fed, don’t you? Well, this isn’t for you.”

Kass smiled, snagging two spoons from the drawer, still holding the kitten, and perching one spoon between her teeth while she reached over to kick the freezer door closed with her foot. This was the ice cream with the cinnamon pecans. That was the surprise. While double mint chocolate chip was her favorite, she enjoyed the thought of eating chocolate caramel surprise for breakfast. Something about it was exciting and grown-up. Yes, I’m an adult, and I eat ice cream for breakfast.

Euphrates wiggled out of her arms and she let the kitten go as she settled on the couch with a self-satisfied smile. This was going to be a good day, she figured. While maybe she didn’t love Gage, she did care for him, and she enjoyed spending time with him. Perhaps she would wait until after the holiday to tell him the truth. New year. Fresh start. No use messing things up so soon, Kass.  Maybe if she gave herself some time, she could grow to love him with the same intensity and feeling as he did.

Forty minutes later he was calling her a jerk because she told him she wouldn’t wait while he ran off to Simlaska because Natalya was pregnant. Gage was going to have a baby. He was going to be a dad. This… was… big. She gave him an entire speech about why she might be selfish, but he was being selfish too asking her to wait for him to figure out how a baby and Natalya and a relationship with her fit into his life. She started panicking, wondering what she would do if she waited here. She couldn’t exactly live in the home of his former lover and roommate with her father in tow. She couldn’t exactly stay in Riverview and get a job and live her life.

They continued talking, and Kass felt her heart sinking, knowing the reality of Gage leaving for Belladonna Cove. They couldn’t be together… not with her plans and his new direction in life. She hated disappointing him. She hated making herself feel worse. She really genuinely cared for Gage, but somehow, in the heat of the moment, she told him she didn’t love him, which was true, but she could have worded it differently. She tried to make up for it by saying she could fall in love with him given time, but the damage was already done.

Kass watched Gage leave, refusing to look at her or give her a goodbye hug. She felt her heart tear from her chest as he stepped into his taxi cab to carry him to the airport. Gage was a special guy. She wanted to still be his friend, but his last word to her made her believe they could never be friends again. His resounding “no” stung with surprising force, and she wondered if she should run after him, to apologize, or take it back. But I’d be lying. 

Kass had plans for her immediate and long-term future. Howard was planning to drive up through historic Simnadia, to visit the alpine woods with their windows rolled down even in winter just to catch a whiff of the heavenly scent, to stand beneath the spray of the famous Autumn Falls waterfall at sunset, to drive through the enchanted forest, to roast marshmallows under the stars in the logging camps of Three Lakes, and to shop in the scenic village of Erewhon.

Before her mother’s wedding in Simpril, she planned to drive with her dad down the Simistral coastline from Simlaska to Southern Califorsimia. Howard planned to teach Kass how to fish off the Cape Garner and Salmon Woods islands in the spring. They would visit the dark town of Midnight Hollow at the end of winter when the sun barely stayed in the sky for most of the day in the Bearsim Sea Circle. They planned to do the silly tourist-y thing and hunt for Bigfoot and Nessie in Beach City. Howard said the best elk burgers came from a little town called Great Bear near the national park. They would eat in the darling cafes of Port La Forks, and stay in the best B&B her dad had ever found run by a charming Simirish transplants. And they would drive to Moonlight Falls in the afternoon and drink the delicious red roast coffee at Van Gould’s.

Howard promised they would visit the famous divided city in northern Oresim, climbing the mountains to Howard’s favorite picnic spot above Elmira City. They would visit the Simpanese Tea Gardens in Magnolia Promenade, and sip green tea at high noon, then take the train to the famous rose gardens. They would sip wine in Jack Simdon Square in Oakland, kayak across the bay to Legacy Island, and visit the small, but amazing farmer’s market in Bay City. They would bike across the famous Ruby Gate Bridge in Bridgewood, and picnic on the beach in the semi-tropical Evandale County.

If they still had time left, they would take a quick breeze through of Southern Califorsimia cities, starting with the whale pool in Fairhaven, walk Hollyweird Boulevard in Los Aniegos, take in an early Saints soccer game in Angel City, and while Kass visited some art museums, Howard planned to get in a game of golf in Bellair. Post-the-wedding, Howard suggested visiting Red County’s summer bands festival on the beach, and then popping down to Starlight Shores at the tip of the state for the summer Sim fests and traveling circus.

Kass couldn’t just abandon her dad and their detailed itinerary. She didn’t know how much longer her dad would be in good enough health to travel. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. At the convincing of Brendon Shore, Kass had applied to a few colleges and universities in Califorsimia, and she hoped to return to school mid-summer of this year. She had already received an early acceptance from Legacy College in Bay City. So her plans to go to Edgewater Global Business College fell away! Kass figured her year on the road with her father gave her invaluable experience, and it was only half done.

Gage having an unexpected kid would only interfere with her plans, and she couldn’t be expected to wait for him to figure out all the details. She was worried about her dad, and wanted to spend as much time with him as possible. She was worried about what might happen if her sisters had EXCES… if she developed EXCES. They were still young. They might beat it. There might be a cure in their lifetime if the government ever let up on their ridiculous research restrictions where only military-contracted medical researchers could do any work on finding a cure for the disease that was crippling a small portion of the population. It was still a significant population, Kass decided. My dad… is… significant.

Kass felt a tear slip down her cheek as she turned and ran into the living room, covering her face, almost embarrassed to be caught crying, even if the only other room occupant was a Christmas tree. Why do I feel a significant ache in my heart then? Am I such a bitch for breaking Gage’s heart? I am...she looked up and caught her sad reflection in one of the Christmas ornaments. Aren’t I? It’s like that song... she thought bitterly, as she climbed onto the couch and curled her hands around one of the throw pillows, drawing her knees to her chest. Last Christmas, I gave you my heart…but the very next day, you gave it away. That’s me… giving his heart away. But it’s not really mine to keep for him, is it? It’s not fair to him. His heart needs to be with Natalya and their baby. The dam broke and the tears flowed freely.

“I could’ve been happy with him,” she bit at her thumbnail feeling miserable. “If I tried… if only I tried… if only this didn’t happen when it did… if only we had been together sooner… then maybe I could’ve mustered the strength to try… to try and be the kind of girlfriend Gage needed…even when another girlfriend of his had a baby. Gah!”

Kass chucked the pillow across the room, startling Tigris who had newly entered the room.

“I’m pathetic!” Kass screeched to herself, throwing her arms on the couch in dramatic fashion.

Hearing the soft squeak of brakes, she leaped to her feet and ran to the window, half-expecting Gage to have returned. Instead, she saw her father step out of a taxi and pay the cab driver. It’s almost ten in the morning, Kass narrowed her eyes. Where has he been? She watched as her father walked around to the back of the house, and she figured he was planning to come in the dining room doors. It was the perfect opportunity to escape to the barn and hide in the shower.

Kass found the song on her playlist to put her in the depressed mopey mood.

Last Christmas, I gave you my heart
But the very next day you gave it away
This year, to save me from tears
I’ll give it to someone special
Last Christmas, I gave you my heart
But the very next day you gave it away
This year, to save me from tears
I’ll give it to someone special
Once bitten and twice shy
I keep my distance
But you still catch my eye
Tell me baby
Do you recognize me?
Well, it’s been a year
It doesn’t surprise me
I wrapped it up and sent it
With a note saying “I love you” I meant it
Now I know what a fool I’ve been
But if you kissed me now
I know you’d fool me again

“What a fool I’ve been,” Kass repeated, touching the tile wall.

She stayed under the water for a long time, so long that the temperature was no longer hot when she emerged. She didn’t cry anymore, but she still felt lousy as she tugged on her jeans, and pulled her new snow-white puffy vest, a Christmas present from her dad, over her mint-green turtleneck. At nearly noon, she had worked up enough courage to walk over to the main house and tell her dad what happened.

When she couldn’t find him, she figured they must have missed one another. Did he go back out? Kass wondered, plopping down on the side porch bench, feeling exhausted.

“Hey there you are, sweetheart!” Howard exclaimed, rounding the corner. “How about some thick cut ham sandwiches for lunch? I picked some up at a deli counter in Simcago last night. I could make that cherry pineapple glaze you like, and I think we still have dill pickles in the fridge.”

“Uh…yeah…” she sniffled. “Probably a good idea to use up what’s in the fridge. There was a brownout earlier.”

“Oh no! Did the breaker get reset?” Howard asked.

Kass winced, and ran her hands through her hair. “Um… no… I didn’t think about that. I was kinda busy….did you have a good date with Marisol?”

“Yeah, she’s in town to promote her new book and she called me,” Howard offered. “And no…you’re not getting any more details.”

“Ugh! Dad!” Kass replied, shaking her head. “I don’t want to know.”

“So where’s lover boy?” her father teased, sitting down on the bench.

“I don’t know,” she said, sadly. “Halfway to the airport by now, I’d imagine.”

“Airport? Why?” her dad asked, surprised.

“Um… he got some news… uh… I don’t know how to say this, Dad…he’s having a kid,” Kass sighed heavily, feeling the sadness creep into her heart. “…with his girlfriend from the summer.”

“Oh!” was all her father could say in reply.

After a few moments of stunned silence, he added, “Are you okay, my daughter?”

“I don’t know, Dad,” she wailed.

“Here, here,” he stood up and offered his arms for a big bear hug.

Kass collapsed against her dad’s shoulder, pushing her forehead into his collarbone, soaking his brown sweatshirt with her tears. Her father’s embrace comforted, but didn’t take away the incredible loneliness and overwhelming despair Kass was feeling. She couldn’t believe she let another good guy get away, but she knew she made the best decision for both of them, but perhaps not in the best way possible. She could have been more sympathetic. More understanding. More willing to try to work things out, or at least willing to wait until he knew what he was going to do before she broke things off.

Still, she had awakened this morning with a sense of the air needing cleared, and her intentions made known to Gage. She just hadn’t expected things to end so quickly. She had hoped to tell him how she felt and be honest, but to stay together at least until she had figured things out. But that wasn’t fair to him or her, and this was for the best. Then why did it hurt like hell had reached up from the cold depths with its icicle arms and froze her heart?

“Kass,” Howard spoke first. “Did you love him?”

“Um…no… I really wanted to… I really did, but I didn’t. Not the way I should have. Not the way he wanted,” she explained.

“And that guy from the Palms? Did you love him?”

“You knew about Billy?”

“I’m a father. Of course, I knew. I just figured you’d tell me in your own time and space and when we went to Mexsimco, I figured you broke things off with him.”

“Oh Dad, I’m sorry. I should’ve told you about Billy. He was a mistake…” she sighed sharply. “A huge mistake. I can’t even begin to explain how big of a mistake he was.”

“Did you two?” her father started and then stopped.

“No Dad, I’m still a virgin, I think…” she ran her hands through her hair. “I don’t know… I’m not even sure what that means. If you mean, did we have sex? No. If you mean other things… I don’t know… Daddy… I don’t know what this whole love and sex thing means. I don’t know the difference between a guy who wants to use me and a guy who is genuinely in love with me. I just don’t know…anything.”

She saw her father’s shoulders ever-so-slightly relax, and she couldn’t help but feeling like she let him down, even though she hadn’t had sex with either Billy or Gage. She needed to be more careful with whom she was with, and she needed to make better decisions in general. She was so far from perfect, and every impulsive thing she did seemed to end in disaster.

“Dad, I screwed up. I broke things off with Gage and he said he loved me. He said he loved me and the very next day I broke his heart. He wanted to try and make things work, but he’s having a baby, and I have plans… with you… places we want to go see… and your health and my health to worry about, and college plans next summer… I just couldn’t wait. I couldn’t wait knowing I didn’t feel about him the same way that he felt about me. But I still cared about him.”

“Then you did the right thing?”

“But why does it hurt so much?”

“Because it will… and it does… and Kass,” Howard said seriously. “I’ve made my own share of mistakes, and I was a lousy husband to your mother. I could’ve at least separated from her before I took up with Kate. But Kass, mistakes are part of life. They are part of how we grow. And I’m still growing up, okay? So you have a long way to go and many many more mistakes until you get to my age,” he added, almost teasingly as he ruffled her hair.

“Dad!” she laughed.

“That’s my girl. There’s your smile,” Howard chuckled. “But you know, you don’t have to make the same mistakes I did, okay, kiddo?”

“I know, Dad.”

“So it looks like we’ve gotta scoot. We should probably pack up after lunch and prep the trailer.”

“Yeah,” she shrugged, leaning into his chest with a half-hug. “You’re right.”

“Well, before we go…” Howard said, mischievously, his eyes twinkling. 

Author Note: Most of the cities I mentioned about Kass’ upcoming travels actually exist as worlds you can download. Maybe I was being lazy, but since I ended Interludes & Solitude early, this is how you know where she is headed off to post this chapter, and before Kassiopeia Fullbright and the Lost Legacy. As always, exercise caution when downloading third-party CC, but if you’re interested… here’s the list:

Hope you enjoyed the appearances of Kassiopeia and her father, Howard, in the FRWL series.

Previous Chapter: 1.40 It’s a Marshmallow World 

Next Chapter: 1.41 Troubles Will Be Miles Away

1.40 It’s a Marshmallow World (FRWL)

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. 

Gage snagged his cell phone off the night stand. Feeling festive, he plugged in his headphones and began hunting through his Christmas music play list for the perfect song.
It’s a marshmallow world in the winter,
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!
Those are marshmallow clouds being friendly,
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!
Gage walked over to the window and stared out at the snow in the yard. Blowing on the window, he saw his breath on the frosty glass. Across the street, kids were making snowmen in the meadow, pulling carrots and sticks out of their pockets, and throwing snowballs as they played. Gage wondered if should wake Kass and they should join them. He hop-skipped down the stairs, two and sometimes three at a time, humming as he went along.
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!
Gage threw on a pair of boots and a heavy coat and walked out into his yard to grab the newspaper. He offered a happy wave to the neighbors who gave him an odd look, and he realized he was still only in his tee shirt and boxer shorts. He didn’t even care how cold it was. The world was his snowball. Oh well, he shrugged, stamping the snow off his boots on the porch and kicking them off as soon as he was inside.
It’s a yum-yummy world made for sweethearts
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.

It’s a yum-yummy world made for sweethearts,
Take a walk with your favorite girl.
It’s a sugar date, so what if spring is late… 
Winter is a marshmallow world,” he sang aloud as he carried the tray to his studio, set it on his desk, and began hunting for a sketch he wanted to give Kass.
In winter it’s a marshmallow world!
In winter it’s a marshmallow world!
“Yes! Found it!” he exclaimed, holding up a piece of paper, right as his cell phone began jingling.

“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 Simlaska 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 Simlaska? 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?”

“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.

Previous Chapter: 1.39 The Fire is Slowly Dying 

Next Chapter: Interlude: The Very Next Day (Kass)

1.39 The Fire is Slowly Dying (FRWL)

When they reached the house in Riverview, Gage came around to open Kass’ car door, but she had already stepped into the snow. He made a joke about carrying her into the house, but she made a face. He was worried she was upset as the evening’s events had taken a traumatic turn, but then she laughed, and looked up at the night sky as snowflakes fell around them as if on a movie cue. Gage was relieved. He followed her into the house, hovering over the small of her back in case she should trip and fall.

“After you,” he said, waving her inside after he unlocked the door.

“Dad?” Kass called.

Gage felt guilty hoping her father wasn’t home. He wasn’t ready to share her yet, plus he had no idea how she wanted to handle the evening’s situation and what she did and did not want to say to her father. He wished they had discussed these things in the car before arriving. When there was no response, he assumed Howard had gone to bed, until Kass read him a note from the refrigerator, stuck on with a penguin magnet.

“He’s apparently met up with Marisol Loera since she’s in town,” Kass said, handing him the paper, her eyes widened with surprise.

“The romance novelist?” he arched a brow.

“Yeah, they met in Lucky Palms,” Kass replied. “I wonder how she knew he was here.”

“Maybe they kept in contact,” he offered.

“Maybe,” she shrugged.

“I’m assuming you want to go to bed,” he said.

“Actually, I could…” she rubbed her arms. “…I’m not tired, really. I think… with everything…” she trailed off awkwardly. “I kinda want to stay up.”

Gage smiled. “I’ll make coffee.”

Kass poked her head in the refrigerator and rustled around while Gage began brewing the hot beverages. He tilted his head impatiently waiting for the liquid to spill into the cup.

“Not much in here,” she remarked.

“Yeah, Christmas cleaned us out,” he replied. “I’ll have to make a run to the store tomorrow.”

Kass shut the fridge door, holding the milk in one hand, and placing her other hand on his upper sleeve. “I’ll come with you.”

Gage couldn’t believe how happy that simple statement had made him. The idea of doing something as mundane as grocery shopping with a girl he loved shouldn’t have made him excited, but it did. He stared into her brown eyes deeply, and wished with all his heart he would only ever make her happy. He wanted to kiss her, but he refrained. He didn’t want to push her after the incident with Ethan. He sensed she needed time to sort things out.

Gage set their mugs on the coffee table before starting a fire in the fireplace to warm the room.

“You remembered the latte art,” she said, softly, taking a sip of the coffee, a foam mustache appearing on her upper lip.

“Well, I did work at Jade’s for awhile,” he said, setting the lighter on the mantle. “I did pick up a thing or two.”

He settled onto the couch, and Kass set down her cup. For a few moments, they both stared into the fire, crackling and popping to life.

“Gage…” she said his name hesitantly, almost like a question.

“It’s okay,” he interrupted. “You don’t need to say anything if you don’t want to.”

Two big tears splashed down her cheeks and she trembled, hunching her shoulders.

“Oh Gage, it was awful!” she sobbed.

Gage scooted closer, and wrapped his arms tightly around her frame. She lay her head on his shoulder, hiccuping in between cries. He wanted to do his best to protect her, and he felt like a jerk for having abandoned her in the park.

“If I had known…” he began.

“If I had known,” she repeated, pulling back and swiping at the mascara stains on her face. “Gage, it’s okay. It’s not your fault. I didn’t know Ethan was going to react that way. He…” a faraway look crossed her face, and he wondered if she was back in the moment.

He leaned forward and tucked her tear-stained hair tenderly behind her ears, trying to pull her back into the present.

“…it was so strange…” she said, her voice low and quiet. “…like some other force was there.”

“What do you mean?” he frowned.

“I’m not sure,” she chewed her lower lip. “Like something supernatural.”

Gage felt panic seize his heart. He couldn’t believe he had left her, and he kicked himself mentally as he realized what could have happened if he hadn’t arrived when he did.

“I…I…don’t want to think about it… really…” she sighed, leaning her head back against the edge of the couch.

“Do you want to press charges?” he asked, coldly.

“Well, if I did, I should’ve done it when I was in the City,” she replied. “Um… do you think I should? I mean, he’s just a kid.”

“That kid…” Gage bit out, and then softened his tone so as not to upset Kass. “…did things to you… said things to you…”

“Yeah, but you punched him,” she said. “He could…” she laid a hand against his chest, worriedly. “…could press charges against you.”

Gage shook out his hand subconsciously, and cracked his wrist. “He had it coming.”

“Maybe… yeah… I mean… yes,” she agreed. “But I don’t want you to… get… in trouble.”

“Kass, I think you should at least talk to the police and see what they can do,” Gage insisted.

“Okay… in the morning…” she sighed heavily, and closed her eyes.

Gage sat, feeling awkward, as she rested. He wasn’t sure what to do or say. He wished he knew how to make sure she was always safe. This Ethan kid was more trouble than Kass realized, and creepy as hell. If they didn’t do something, Gage was worried they might be facing bigger problems down the road. After everything Kass described, he was certain something sinister had happened tonight and there was more to the scene than met the eye. He wished he had called the police immediately, but his only thought was to get Kass home safe, like she had asked.

“Kiss me,” she asked sweetly.

“Are you sure?” he inquired, surprised by her request.

Kass’ eyes fluttered open, and she frowned in his direction. “Yes, please…I want to feel you… and not…” she touched her lips. “…him… there.”

Gage obliged, pulling her into a kiss. A little moan escaped her lips, and he pulled back an inch to make sure she was okay. She bobbed her head, encouraging him to continue. Gage wrapped his arm around her neck, and she raised her hand to interlock fingers with him, pulling his hand closer into her neck. Her other hand lay on her knee, with a single finger stroking his lower thigh. He tingled at the sensation. He took his other arm and wrapped it around her waist, squeezing her lower rib cage slightly.

“Ow!” she murmured, releasing her lip lock. “Sorry…” she winced. “Um… I think it hurts… from earlier…”

“Oh, I should’ve known,” he dropped his hands back into his lap, feeling stupid. “I’m sorry.”

Kass surprised him. In one fluid movement, she slipped off her shoes, kicking them under the coffee table, and climbed into his lap, wrapping her arms around his neck, and returning to kiss him. He groaned into her mouth, and shifted his arm so as to hold her more securely around her waist, and his other arm stayed trapped between her legs and the couch. He didn’t really care. She was kissing him. This was real. This was magical. Her hand came around the back of his head, and brushed over the soft bristles of his remaining hairs. He loved the sensation. None of the women he had been with had ever stroked his head, and it felt incredible.

After a few minutes, she pulled back and buried her face in his neck, curling a hair absently around her finger.

“This is nice,” she murmured.

“Yes,” he agreed.

“I think the fire is dying,” she remarked.

He glanced over to the fireplace and watched as a pile of snow fell through the chimney landing on the flames.

“Talk about a wet blanket,” he joked.

Kass laughed tiredly.

“I think I didn’t put in enough kindling,” he said, standing to go observe the fireplace from a closer distance, and poked at the wood. “I think you’re right… it’s dying out.”

The fire is slowly dying… and my dear… we’re still goodbye-ing…” she sang softly.

“But as long as you love me so,” he continued where she left off.

Kass threw her hands into the air. “Let it snow. Let it snow. Let it snow.”

Gage returned and knelt by the couch, taking her hands in his own. “Do you love me, Kass? Do you really?”

She hesitated, before responding, “Of course, I love you, Gage. I think I always have.”

He was so ecstatic  that he let out a whoop of joy, and she looked startled, but then laughed too.

“Gage, will you hold me?” she asked.

“Sure,” he climbed back onto the couch.

“No… not here… tonight…” she glanced up at the ceiling. “I… just don’t know if I can sleep alo….” she trailed off and he knew she was about to say alone but changed her mind. “…I am worried about nightmares…” she bit her lower lip. “…I’m not sure… if… I feel safe… in the barn alone.”

“Kass,” he put a finger over her lips. “Say no more. You can sleep with me tonight.”

Previous Chapter: Interlude: Make My Wish Come True (Kass) 

Next Chapter: Coming Soon!

Interlude: Make My Wish Come True (FRWL) [Kass]

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.

“Oh gawd!”

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.

Previous Chapter: 1.38 Singing Our Song 

Next Chapter: 1.39 The Fire is Slowly Dying

1.38 Singing Our Song (FRWL)

Author Note: When you reach the part where there is a song dedication to Kass, please click and listen to this song because it really will set the tone for the scene. I can’t capture it as well in words as this song does. No cheating though. 😉 Wait until the scene if you will please. 


Christmas was a magical time of year, and Gage felt like he had finally found what he had been looking for all along – Kass. And she had responded eagerly to his attentions and intentions. He decided to do things the right way this time.

After their kiss, Gage walked Kass back to the barn and made sure she got up the loft steps okay before returning to the house. He lay awake most of the night excited for new possibilities. He waited until he heard the sound of Howard coming through the door, and then bounced downstairs. He wanted to ask for her father’s permission to date his daughter. Howard was surprised by the request, but then he gave his blessing, placing his hand on Gage’s and saying how glad he was that Kassiopeia was happy again.

The day after Christmas, Gage and Kass hit the sales at Riverview Antiques and Carpenter Consignment, and picked out silly hats and sunglasses to try on, doing silly poses in front of the mirror. Gage found some wooden pencils in excellent condition, and Kass purchased a few tee shirts and a pair of jeans. Kass helped Gage pick out a new steel blue couch for his house as he was trying to make things more his own. He had already talked to Anita, and she had approved. Hope Carpenter, the owner, even offered free delivery since her husband, Buzz, being a farmer had more free time in the winter. While they waited for Buzz to drive over in the truck, Gage took Kass to the rooftop and taught her how to play a game of gnubb. They both thought it was funny the set was on the roof, but Hope explained it was her daughter, Meadow’s idea, and Meadow was well… a little off sometimes, Hope’s words, not Gage’s. Gage said it was one of Riverview’s hidden fun spots, and Kass seemed to enjoy tossing batons at the strange wooden bunny faces.

On Sunday, Gage, Howard, and Kass attended services at the Riverdale Village Church. Gage hadn’t been to Angelican services since he was a young teen with Kass, and even then, he had really only been to the youth group. The shepherd shared a few proverbs and encouraged those listening to make wise decisions in the coming new year. Gage squeezed Kass’s hand, bound and determined, to handle this relationship with care. He had learned a few lessons since the summer.

After the message and a few songs, they joined the parishioners for a post-Christmas dinner of honeyed ham, sweet potato casserole, cooked corn, green beans, cranberry salad, cheesy scalloped potatoes, and the largest dinner rolls Gage had ever seen. Howard had even politely brought a pecan-crusted pumpkin pie to share, even though they were guests at the potluck.

When the meal was finished, some of the younger attendees invited Gage and Kass to tag along to the movies to see the new Adventures of the Starship Simulation IV. Like a proper boyfriend, Gage paid for movie tickets, two enormous blue raspberry slushies, and a large package of chocolate sugar sliders. During the intense action scenes, Kass leaned close to his shoulder, and he could smell her gingery jasmine perfume. They stole a kiss during a happy romantic scene between the protagonists.

On Monday, Gage brought Kass to work and asked her to help him pick out some new pieces for display in the Octagon House’s online art-sharing catalog with most other museums and galleries in the nation. He wasn’t surprised when she selected several ocean prints. He made a mental note to do an oil painting of the Simistral Ocean for her, maybe for Valensim’s Day. They shared disgusting fish burgers at Hogan’s Deep-fried Diner and Gage made it up to her by splitting a chocolate moo milkshake, and asking for extra cherries.

On Wednesday, Kass received a phone call from a boy she had tutored in Lucky Palms. He was playing with his band in Simcago the following night. Kass asked in Gage would go with her, and they decided to make a day of it. They drove up to the City on Thursday morning and had brunch with Sam and his girlfriend, Ruby. They visited the art institute, museum of natural history, and the famous Bruce Tower in downtown, though Kass was too scared to walk out over the glass and stand above over a thousand feet above traffic. After an early dinner at one of Devil’s Ports premier deep dish pizza restaurants, they headed over to the Northerly Island Pavilion for the New Year’s Eve celebration.

“Are you okay?” he asked as Kass laid her hand across her stomach.

“Yes!” she said, a worried look clouding her face. “I’m just nervous for Ethan.”

“You’re nervous for Ethan?” he repeated, squeezing her hand. “I’m sure he’ll be fine.”

“Oh, but there’s not a lot of people here,” she pouted. “I was hoping he’d have more exposure. They’re just starting out.”

“What’s the name of the band again?” Gage asked, trying to distract her.

The Black Lily, I think,” Kass said, biting her lower lip.

“I’m sure they’ll do great,” Gage nodded toward the stage. “Look they’re setting up. Plus it’s a holiday evening. I’m sure there’s a million things to do in the City tonight so this is still a decent turn-out, okay?”

“Yeah, but I was expecting more teenagers since they are a teen band… and this seems like a weird crowd,” she said, eyeing the people around them sharply.

“Kass! Shh!” he admonished when a dark-skinned, long-haired man turned around and glared at them. “Shh…people will hear you.”

“Oh, I see Ethan!” Kass exclaimed, and waved wildly.

Gage suppressed a smile. She was cute when she was excited.

“That’s Ethan?” he squinted to see the boy on the stage.

“Yeah, the one with the spiky hair that’s over there talking to security,” she explained as she pointed. “Opps… sorry…” she nearly whacked a petite blonde lady in sunglasses. “How can you see?” she asked.

“I see fine,” the girl grunted in response.

Kass touched her face, and giggled. “I guess, wearing sunglasses at a night concert is considered cool or something…”

Gage reached over and ruffled her red hair. “Come here, goofball.”

Kass clapped her hands happily, and then immediately frowned.

“What’s wrong now?” he inquired.

She pointed to her stomach. “Someone has a picnic over there and it’s making me hungry.”

“What? Kass? You ate your weight in pepperoni and you’re still hungry?” he exclaimed, having forgotten how much his friend could eat.

She gave him a mock-pout. “We didn’t get dessert…and you know I have a sweet tooth.”

“We could’ve ordered the giant cookie with ice cream,” Gage said.

“Yeah, but you already got the check,” she replied. “I didn’t want to do that to you.”

“Hold on…” he held up his hand.

Walking over the red-and-white checkered picnic blanket, Gage struck up a conversation with its owners, and explained how his girlfriend was hungry. Would they mind sharing? He would be happy to pay them as he held out a five note. The teen couple shook their heads, refusing to take money, and invited them to join. The Simdanavian-looking girl smiled, waving Kass over to the blanket, and she eagerly joined them. She introduced herself as Sally Husten, and Kass shook her hand and complimented her braided bun. The girl blushed, and patted her white blonde hair, thanking Kass, and told them to help themselves to the watermelon. The Mesimican boy with her said his name was Justin Ortez, and he and Gage quickly got into a conversation about the movie, Cowboys and Aliens III, since Justin was wearing a cowboy wrangling an alien tee shirt.

The band pianist introduced himself as Tim, the girl on the drums was Angela , and the guy on the guitar was Ethan, as they already knew.

“And we’re Black Lily,” Tim yelled, as Angela gave them a click start.

Kass whistled louder than she probably should, jumping up and down as she did, catching the eye of the guitarist. The boy gave Kass a sort-of indifferent look with a tweaked eyebrow, but then couldn’t help himself and smiled as she continued cheering the band. Gage had to admit the group was halfway decent. They played a few old classics and an original or two, collaboratively written by the pianist and guitarist.

Ethan shredded a guitar solo, and of course, Kass screamed again.

“He was a really good student too!” she yelled over the noise as if that was a pertinent detail Gage had to know.

Toward the end, the band began playing a few holiday songs to appease the crowd. Kass tugged on Gage’s arm and they joined the forming mosh-pit and began dancing and twirling on the lawn of the Northerly Island Pavilion. It was pretty fun, Gage admitted to himself, even though he had never moshed before to Winter Wonderland. But it was a bunch of high schoolers, and he was doing this for Kass.

“Hey, it’s our song,” he said, grinning broadly as he dipped Kass.

“What?” she yelled.

“They’re singing our song…” he repeated.

“Oh!” she stood up, her cheeks rosy from all the movement. “It’s beginning to look a lot…”

“…like Christmas…” he finished.

Her smile was beautiful as she leaned in, grabbing the edges of his collar, and planted a kiss on his lips. She tasted like raspberries and cream. He liked this new confident side to Kass.

“…like looo-oove…” she added in a sing-song way.

The song ended, and they clapped.

“And now…” Ethan grabbed a microphone. “This next song goes out to…” the crowd was cheering, and Ethan grinned, happy about the attention and reception of the audience. “…this next song goes out to a woman… who helped me… stay in school… when all hope failed that I would finish this semester.”

“…and now admit it! You have the hots for her!” a guy near their spot, cupped his hands over his mouth, and yelled from the crowd.

Ethan fist-pumped the air. “And…” he adjusted the microphone stand. “…yeah…she’s great… so I just wanna dedicate this next song to Kassiopeia Fullbright.”

Gage whipped his attention to his girlfriend, and saw her face turn beet-red as she lifted her hand to cover her self-conscious giggle.

“Ugh…that’s awkward,” she rolled her eyes as Ethan began singing in a minor key.

I don’t want a lot for Christmas. There is just one thing I need. I don’t care...”

“Yeah, talk about it,” Gage wrapped his arm around her neck. “Did you know he was going to do that?”

She shook her head, frowning as Ethan continued singing with almost a desperate quality to his voice. Gage’s forehead creased and he narrowed his eyes.

All I want for Christmas? Really, dude? In a minor key? 

I just want you here tonight… holding onto me so tight…”  

By the time, Ethan reached the second chorus, the song had taken a sad, dark, mysterious twist. Gage shivered, hugging Kass closer to his body. For some reason, they seemed like the only two people in the crowd who weren’t really getting into the song. There were people head banging and swaying the music and clapping about every four beats. Kass was tensely laughing through her teeth and gripping his rib cage a little too hard.

“….Santa won’t you bring me what I really need…” Ethan grabbed the microphone in a frenzied way, squeezing his eyes tightly shut, as Tim leaned in from the keys and shared the space, and they harmonized in a shivery way, “…oh won’t you please bring my baby to meeeeeeee…. yeeeeaahhhh!” 

Kass’s eyes met his own, a mix of shock and awe on her face. “He’s not half bad…” she shrugged, returning her attention to the stage.

I just wanna see my baby…standing right outside my door…” Ethan sang, with the desperation of a man twice his age, clinging to the hand of his wife fighting a losing battle with cancer on a frigid Christmas Eve night.

I just want you for my own…” Ethan belted. “More than you could ever know…make my wish come true…” he shot his eyes straight to Kass with the accuracy of a speeding bullet hitting its target fifty yards away.

Gage felt her wiggle from his grasp as she seemed to unknowingly be putting some distance between them.

“…all I want for Christmas…” Ethan dramatically slowed down, adding an effective pause before strumming fiercely on his guitar as he impressively screamed and maintained musical quality, “….is yooooooooouuuuuu!”

The remainder of the band’s members kept singing in a chanting manner, “All I want for Christmas is you, baby,” over and over again, as Ethan continued to sing “You” over the top, and they ended on harmonic dissonance that sounded like they melted into a puddle of children’s tears with the fanfare of an army that had just crushed their enemy.

When the song was over, Black Lily announced they would be taking a break. Not a minute to soon. That was too weird, Gage shivered.

“Well, that was different,” she remarked. “I don’t know if I should feel flattered or creeped-out.”

“Yeah, like a monstrous green hand with yellowed hangnails was coming out of the sky for you,” Gage said, half-jokingly.

Kass slugged his arm. “Come on. It wasn’t that bad. You’ve gotta admit. You’ve never heard a version like that before. They’re at least unique… trying to put their name on the map and all.”

“Fine,” he hunched his shoulders and waved his hands. “I’m parched. I’m gonna run back to the Eleven-Seven store and grab a few water bottles. You want anything?”

She grinned, tilting her head, and curling her one foot coyly. “One of those cinnamon sugar pretzels? And maybe a hot cocoa? It’s getting a little cold out here,” she shivered in an exaggerated manner, hugging her arms to her chest and making a “brrr” noise with her lips.

He sighed, feeling the money leaving his wallet already. This day was costing him a fortune, but he was happy to oblige his new girlfriend. “Sure…”

“Thanks sweetie,” she smiled, and then turned to talk with an over-exuberant Sally who was gushing about Black Lily‘s performance.

Gage rolled his eyes, and started out of the park. The Eleven-Seven store was only three blocks away, but since it was a holiday night, the streets were slammed with cars and the sidewalks were overcrowded. He said “excuse me” more times than he would’ve liked as he muscled through the people, many of whom were already drunk and it wasn’t even nine o’clock yet.

Happy New Beer!” a drunken co-ed said in a silly tone as she blew a party horn in his face, and laughed hysterically as her girlfriends in high heels much too high for any human to ever walk in caught her and helped her keep walking.

“Right…new year…” he grunted.

The line in the twenty-four hour mini mart was insanely long. Gage sighed as he walked back to the cooler and pulled two bottled waters from the shelf, and then wandered to the hot drinks machine and pushed the hot chocolate button. The warm brown liquid spewed into a stryofoam cup, and he held it as two college-aged females and a guy bumped past him trying to get to the candy aisle, and singing a slurred version of Auld Lang Syne, none offering apologies.

It’s as if I’m invisible, Gage shook his head. This is the twenty-fifth century. You think they could’ve come up with a better new year’s song by now, he grumbled to himself, fastening the lid on the cup.

“One cinnamon sugar pretzel,” he requested, holding up a singular finger when he finally reached the front of the line nearly fifteen minutes later.

Gage glanced at his watch, the birthday present from Kass, and frowned. She would probably be wondering where he was, and the show had probably started again.

“We’re out,” the girl behind the counter with the diamond nose-piercing and the off-shoulder black blouse, revealing her magenta bra strap.

“Drats!” he snapped his fingers. “I’ll take a regular salted one then,” he sighed, and wondered why a white woman like the attendant before him thought that dreadlocks looked good on them.

The dark-haired woman rolled her eyes and snapped a piece of bubble gum. “We’re out. You gonna pay for those?” she nodded carelessly at his bottled water and hot cocoa.

“Well yes,” he frowned. “Do you have any pretzels?”

“Um… let me check…” she pulled her pink gum out of her mouth with her fingers and rifled through the pretzel display case, and Gage cringed, trying not to think about the unsanitary nature of the establishment. “I’ve got a cheese-filled one.”

“Sure, I’ll take it,” he breathed a sigh of relief when she used a confectionery paper to grab the food, and hand it to him.

“Dude,” a customer behind him in a cop’s uniform tapped his shoulder. “You’re smart…” he said, eyeing the water bottles. It’s a good thing to stay hydrated tonight.”

“Yes,” was all Gage said, figuring the guy assumed he would be drinking tonight.

“Yeah, all these co-eds here,” the man said. “…drink their asses off and then we have to come hauling them to jail after they do something stupid.”

Gage paid and nodded to the cop. “Have a good night.”

“Thanks man,” the man tipped his hat. “Stay safe out there.”

Gage started back to the park, trying to make his way through the crowds. He was starting to wish that he had brought his car, but they had left it parked at Sam’s apartment on the other side of town, and had been hoofing it or taking the subway all day. When he reached the one block mark, he spotted Cerise in the distance across the street. He tried to call out to her, but with his hands full, he couldn’t exactly wave. The pale-skinned redhead looked like she was in a hurry anyway as she pushed against the direction of the crowd. He heard her cry out and a split second later, she tripped and fell, her head disappearing from the crowd.

“Hey!” Gage called out, nearly dropping the hot chocolate, and he pushed past a few people on the sidewalk, glancing frantically back and forth before darting across the street.

“Cerise!” he yelled and saw her struggling to return to her feet.

He bent to help her up. “Hey, are you okay?”

“Gage?” she said, sense of bewilderment crossing her pasty white face. “I…uh… thank you.”

“No problem,” he shrugged, helping her dust off her clothes but inadvertently sprinkling sea salt on her skirt. “Opps…sorry…”

“Not a problem,” she said, her voice lacking its typical liquefied golden lilt. “What are you doing in Simcago tonight?”

“Actually, I’m trying to get back to a concert with my girlfriend, but I saw you and wanted to make sure you were okay,” he replied.

“Oh, thanks, so girlfriend?” she tilted her head to the side, her tired eyes searching his face to see if he was serious. “…so is it Anita Errare?”

“What?” he shouted, and then lowered his tone, embarassed when he drew the attention of others on the sidewalk. “…uh… no…I mean… I dated her… briefly… but…did everyone know?”

Cerise laughed coarsely. “Do you read gossip magazines?”

“Not really,” he replied. “Actually…um… it’s Kass.”

“Kass?” she repeated, and he saw a brief sadness flash in her eyes before she returned to a saccharine smile.  “That’s wonderful.”

I shouldn’t be so arrogant to think she’s into me still. Or was ever, he mentally kicked himself.

“So are you doing okay?” he asked.

“Yeah,” she shook her head. “Whatever. Business is usual. You better get back to your girl. It’s been awhile you said.”

“Oh right…” Gage said. “Well good to see ya. Take care.”

Cerise planted a kiss on his cheek before they were torn apart by the massive amount of people trying to cross the street. She called after him saying something, but he couldn’t hear her as she disappeared into the crowd. It was nearly eleven by the time he reached the park again, and he noticed the concert was over and most of the crowd had dispersed. He tripped over a bike rack and spilled some lukewarm liquid chocolate on his arm.

“Great,” he murmured sarcastically, already feeling bad for taking so long to return to the park.

A cry from the western side of the stage reached his ears. Immediately he was alert. That was Kass. His feet pounded across the grass and he lost one of the water bottles out of his pocket. He didn’t care. Kass was yelping in the grove of trees to the right of the stage, though she was still hidden from his sight behind a series of bushes and velvet ropes. When he reached the spot, he was shocked by the image he saw. Ethan had his weaselly hands around Kass’ waist, gripping tightly and yelling something foul. Gage didn’t stop to think. He just reacted.

“Ow! What the hell, man!?” Ethan shrieked as Gage’s fist came in contact with the teen’s nose, and blood spurted down his face.

“You leave her alone,” Gage growled, pummeling his fists, ready to hit the kid again, but the sight of Kass lying face up on the ground distracted him.

Ethan scampered off from the VIP section, leaving Gage alone with Kass as he knelt next to her body. Her eyes were open, but she was shaking fiercely, and her eyes had a glazed shocked look.

“Kass, sweetheart, are you okay?” he asked, gently grabbing her wrist and feeling a fast-paced pulse.

No wonder! 

“Gage?” she said, hazily, more as a question than a statement. “You’re here?”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m here. I’m sorry I’m late,” he mumbled, feeling terrible for having left her alone with the creepy band kid. “You’re the second girl I’ve had to rescue tonight. But… you are, by far, the prettier one…” he joked, trying to lighten the mood.

Lifting her up into his arms, he attempted to help her stand, but she wobbled and he was forced to pick her up again to keep her from falling. Kass leaned into his face, and he could feel a tear fall down her cheek. Her trembling body indicated she was really scared. Her face was still really pale as he set her gently on the edge of the picnic table.

Kass nearly fell forward, and he stepped into her to keep her from slipping to the ground. Her mouth pressed into the side of his cheek.

“My hero,” she croaked. “Wait…the second?”

“Don’t even worry about it,” he said, and his leg tingled as her foot brushed up the side of his jeans.

“Take me home,” she whimpered, and then cleared her throat, as if uncomfortable being caught in a vulnerable state. “I mean…” she exhaled heavily. “Let’s go home. I’ve had enough excitement for one night.”


Author Note: Okay, I really hoped you listened to the song by the amazingly talented Chase Holfelder because it really does set the scene for what happened above. I almost felt a little guilty pairing the song with a creepy-ish scene. Another appearance by Cerise. Another appearance by Ethan Tanner, and this Ethan’s changed a little…or has he? Mwahahaha! Okay, I’ll be serious. I had fun creating his band. You’ll learn more about what happened in the next chapter. A few quick notes – the Bruce Tower is a play off the Willis Tower, formerly the Sears Tower, in Chicago… and I couldn’t help myself and be a little punny… Bruce…Willis… okay, moving on. Riverview Antiques is an actual lot you can download on ModtheSims. I decided the Carpenter Consignment was owned by the Carpenter-Rhodes family, and in this downloadable lot, there is an actual gnubb set on the roof. Riverdale Village Church is also a downloadable lot on ModtheSims. Adventures of a Starship Simulation is a movie listed and available to “watch” in the Sims 4, and I just added the the Roman numeral IV for fun and the III to Cowboys and Aliens. Sally Husten and Justin Ortez are the babysitter townies for Riverview. And the monstrous green hand with the hangnails? Well, that’s a Sims 3 reference to the moodlet a Sim gets when creeped out. Eleven-Seven is obviously a parody of 7-11 stores. Hope you enjoyed. 🙂

Previous Chapter: Interlude: The Most Wonderful Time (Kass)

Next Chapter:Interlude: Make My Wish Come True (Kass)

1.37 All I Want (FRWL)

Christmas morning arrived and Gage felt like a little kid. He padded down the stairs in his stocking feet and sleepily rubbed his eyes. Howard had already kindled a fire, brewed a pot of strong coffee, and started making pumpkin spice waffles. Did the man ever sleep? Gage wondered. He kept wanting to ask about the EXCES, but he didn’t know if Howard knew he knew and he didn’t want to make Kass’ father feel uncomfortable if he didn’t like talking about his condition.

“Smells delicious,” he leaned lazily on the counter and dropped a spoonful of sugar into his snowman coffee mug.

“Thank you,” Howard remarked, putting on hot pads as he opened the oven door. “It’s the least I can do for you letting us say here.”

He pulled out a pile of waffles in an oven baking tray, and Gage could practically see the steam. Howard’s glasses fogged.

“Merry Christmas, son,” Howard said, cheerily.

Gage felt a lump form in his throat. This was nice. Beyond nice. It was wonderful.

“Thank you,” he croaked. “Merry Christmas to you to, Mr. Fullbright.”

“Please,” Howard waved his oven glove over the waffles and blew lightly on their breakfast. “Call me Howard. This Mister Fullbright stuff is too stiff and formal for my daughter’s best friend.”

“Okay, sure,” Gage grinned.

“And now for the bacon,” Howard set down the waffles on two ceramic plates to cool and returned to the stove top, poking at the sizzling meat. “Could you go wake Kass for me?”

“Sure,” Gage yawned, and slipped into his boots at the front door, grabbing his jacket from the stairwell railing.

Stepping outside, he inhaled the morning. The snow was the perfect powdery fresh consistency, blanketing the world in a winter wonderland. He smelled the cool, crisp air, and shielded his eyes as he saw the sun peeping through the Simcember clouds. He practically skipped across the yard to the guest house, feeling incredibly satisfied with his life in the past few days. It’s going to be the perfect Christmas. 

Slipping into the barn, he listened for a moment to see if he heard Kass. Instead, he felt something warm and furry nuzzle his leg, and he reached down to pet Tigris.

“How’d you get out here, buddy?” he asked in a low voice.

Constance had asked him to watch her cats while she was gone, and he had brought them to his house. He made a mental note to go over to her home later and put food in the terrarium for the lizard. It was a little harder to transport. The orange tabby purred as he patted his fur. He wondered why it never occurred to him to get a pet. Perhaps that would’ve been a healthier way to find companionship.

“Did Euphrates get out here with you too?” he asked, nuzzling the cat’s nose. “Kass?” he called up to the loft.

She groaned, and he smiled. Kass was not a morning person.

“Merry Christmas,” he said cheerily, picking up Tigris and moving toward the steps. “Are you decent?”

“Enough,” she said, tiredly. “Merry…Christmas…”

He climbed the stairs, and plopped the cat on her stomach. She sat up, and her red hair, a gloriously messy side ponytail, fell in her face.

“Who’s….Whoooo’s this cutie?” she asked, in between a yawn, and began stroking Tigris’ fur.

“You remember Constance right?” he replied. “I’m watching her cats for her while she’s out of town for the holidays. I’m guessing this one slipped out when Howard came over to the main house and made his way here.”

“Oh,” she said. “He’s sweet.”

“Who? The cat or you dad?” he dodged her arm swing.

Kass tossed off the cow-print covers and slid her feet onto the wooden floor. “What time is it?”

“Quarter past eight.”

“Ugh! I was hoping to sleep until nine.”

“Nope. It’s Christmas. Up and at ’em, daisy.”

“Daisy?”

He laughed. “It’s a phrase. I think. I don’t know. I think I picked it up from Constance.”

“So, what’s the deal with you and Constance?” she asked, raking her hair with her fingers.

“Constance?” he shrugged. “We’re just friends.”

“Oh…okay…” Kass smirked, as if she didn’t believe him, tightening her ponytail.

“Seriously,” he insisted, picking up Tigris so he could carry the cat back over to the main house. “Kass… I…” he paused, wondering if he should say what he was feeling now. “…like you…” he went with a variant, and mentally kicked himself, wishing he could take it back.

“Aw…” she smiled widely. “I like you too…” she rubbed his head as if he were a genie in a lamp.

He frowned as she tugged on a robe, and pulled on a pair of shoes. Not the response I was wanting. Kass started down the steps, and glanced back at him, the smile still plastered across her face.

“Are you coming?”

“Yeah, yeah,” he waved with his free hand. “I’m coming.”

“Gage, my man, the house looks fantastic,” Sam gave him a high five as he entered.

“And smells fantastic too,” Ruby leaned forward and sniffed the Christmas tree, sighing happily. “Oh! Real needles. My family always uses the half-size fake one. Can’t really afford a real one every year.”

“And what is that other smell?” Sam sniffed around the room like a hungry dog.

“Howard, Kass’ dad made our feast tonight, and he’s a genius in the kitchen,” Gage responded.

“I heard that,” a familiar beanie-covered head poked his head through the doorway. “I promise not to let it go to my head.”

“Seriously, it smells incredible,” Ruby smiled and waved, before returning to intently admire the colored balls on the Christmas tree. “Hand-painted too…” she said as she reached out to touch the decorations absently.

“I’m glad you like the tree,” Gage remarked. “I’ve got a display of Christmas sculptures down at the Octagon House by the sculptor, Harwood Clay. Turns out the dude makes Christmas ornaments too, though they are heavy…”

“…as balls?”

Sam flushed, and Gage coughed awkwardly. If Ruby noticed, she didn’t react, still mesmerized by the Christmas ornaments. His aunt sure knew how to make an entrance.

“Seriously, men, it’s just a little testicle humor,” Missy Bagley jested. “Mmm… it’s nice in here, sweetheart…” she planted a kiss on Gage’s cheek.

Double entendre, mother,” Sam rolled his eyes.

“Well someone has to make them, dear,” Missy huffed humorously, and pulled her fur-lined red coat closer to her neck. “It’s chilly in here, Gage. Maybe adjust the thermostat?”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” he replied. “I was thinking about a fire and I forgot.”

“I’m starved,” Sam said, grabbing a fistful of candy from the glass jar on the coffee table.

“Sam!” Ruby chided. “You’ll ruin your dinner.”

“Sam! Your feet!” his mother exclaimed, almost simultaneously.

Sam grinned, and sat down on the couch, sticking a handful in his mouth as he rested his dress shoes on the coffee table. “But they’re so good,” he said, between mouthfuls.

“I’m glad you like them,” Kass said casually as she entered the room. “They’re from Simbals Gourmet Candies in Bluewater Village. My dad and I stopped at the original factory and picked up these jelly beans.”

Instantly, Sam slid his feet off the coffee table, and returned to a standing position.

“Uh… hi…and thanks…I guess,” he said, shaking Kass’ hand vigorously.

She laughed. “Hi, it’s nice to finally meet you…” she trailed off, waiting for a name, but Sam continued grinning like an idiot.

Ruby turned away from the tree, and extended her hand with a smile. “Forgive my boyfriend, Sam. He’s a little star struck. We’ve heard a lot about you.”

Gage whipped his attention to Kass, and saw a hint of pink color her cheeks.

“I’m Ruby Broke, by the way,” Ruby continued to introduce herself. “I hear you grew up with Gage in Califorsimia?”

“Yes, and hi, I’m Kass. We did. Well, our teen years at least. I hear you’re in college out there,” Kass replied.

“Yeah, I have an athletic scholarship at Legacy in Bay City,” Ruby answered. “I love it out there. I don’t know how you left…” she eyed Gage with a smile. “…the ocean is breathtaking.”

“That it is,” Sam agreed.

“You’ve only seen it what? Once, dude?” Gage laughed, punching Sam in the arm.

“Twice… I went out to help Ruby move into the dorms, and then again on fall break,” Sam said, throwing a punch of his own back.

“Ow!” Gage exclaimed.

“Okay, seriously, you two, enough!” Missy said, stepping between her son and nephew. “And this is the famous Kassiopeia…” she said, reaching out her arms and setting her hands on Kass’ shoulders, eyeing the woman up and down.

“I don’t know about famous,” Kass shrugged.

“Don’t sell yourself short. We’ve heard a lot about you,” Missy said. “I guess we’ll see just how awesome you supposedly are.”

“Uh…” Gage cleared his throat, and interrupted, wondering what in the world his aunt meant. “…how about some Christmas music?”

He walked over and pressed play on his Muze Portably Portable music player on the mantle.

“Great cuz,” Rhoda said sarcastically as the door flew open and she walked in, bringing an icy blast of air with her, and an unexpected guest. “Like we don’t already get bombarded by the carols like everywhere we go.”

“Rhoda,” Missy said, narrowing her eyes as everyone in the room became fixated on the young woman’s date for the evening.

“Whoo! Is it chilly in here?” Howard entered the room, rubbing his blazer coat sleeves as made a beeline for a fireplace. “Let me get some flames going.”

No one said anything. Everyone was still surprised by the man accompanying Rhoda… Don Lothario. The man strode into the room like he owned the place, with a confident swagger, dressed in a white blazer, silver button-down and no tie, and powder blue pants, looking like he just stepped out of a Sim-Q magazine cover, and smelling like it too, Gage noted. The fireplace crackled to life, and Howard stood up, and walked over to shake the man’s hand, the first one in the room to properly greet the guy.

I don’t want a lot for Christmas
There is just one thing I need
I don’t care about the presents
Underneath the Christmas tree

The music player sang.

“Well I do,” Rhoda plopped down on the couch in a huff, without removing her black button-down coat. “I care about my presents.”

“Of course you would,” Missy glared at her daughter.

I just want you for my own
More than you could ever know
Make my wish come true
All I want for Christmas is you, yeah.

“Hello Rhoda, I’m Howard, and that’s Kass, my daughter,” Howard sat on the couch next to Gage’s older cousin, breaking the awkward tension.

I don’t want a lot for Christmas
There is just one thing I need
And I don’t care about the presents
Underneath the Christmas tree

I don’t need to hang my stocking
There upon the fireplace
Santa Claus won’t make me happy
With a toy on Christmas Day

“Thanks for coming, um… Rhoda…” Gage nodded awkwardly to his cousin. “…and um… Don… welcome to my…er…home.”

“Thanks, man,” Don patted Gage on the back in a friendly manner. “Smells like Christmas in here.”

“That’s the point,” Missy said icily. “Rhoda, can I see you in the kitchen?”

“Whatever, Ma, sure,” Rhoda rolled her eyes and threw her hands in the air, stomping off into the kitchen while Don introduced himself to Kass, Ruby, and Sam.

I just want you for my own
More than you could ever know
Make my wish come true
All I want for Christmas is you
You, baby

Five minutes later, everyone was seated around the table with Howard and Gage at opposite heads. Sam and Ruby sat across from Missy and Kass while Rhoda returned to the car to get a dish she had forgotten, and Don accompanied her.

“How much do you know about him?” Missy was asking, directing her attention to Howard.

“Don?” he dropped a napkin in his lap. “Not much. I know of him.”

“I thought he was engaged to someone in Califorsimia,” Ruby said in a hushed tone as she scooted her chair closer to the table.

Oh, I won’t ask for much this Christmas
I won’t even wish for snow
And I’m just gonna keep on waiting
Underneath the mistletoe

I won’t make a list and send it
To the North Pole for Saint Nick
I won’t even stay awake to
Hear those magic reindeer click

“I should get some more chairs, Gage,” Sam stood up, evidently not wanting to be included in the conversation.

Kass sat quietly, biting her lower lip, and Gage resisted the urge to reach out and take her hand. This evening was getting more uncomfortable by the minute, and he had already heard Missy chew Rhoda out in the kitchen for bringing that man to the house for Christmas dinner. What’s done is done, he figured. He wanted the evening to be perfect, and kicking Don Lothario out wasn’t going to make things better. I hope, he winced.

“Uh… seems like the player is stuck on this one song,” he rubbed his head awkwardly. “I should go fix it.”

“Woot! Woot!” Rhoda screamed as she made her grand re-entrance into the dining room, throwing her arms above her head like she could care less.

‘Cause I just want you here tonight
Holding on to me so tight
What more can I do?
Baby, all I want for Christmas is you
You, baby

Everyone was startled temporarily as the girl continued to wave her arms in the air, and Gage wondered if she had a swig or two from the flask he spied in her coat pocket before returning inside. Rhoda set a raspberry cheesecake on the buffet next to all the food.

“Rhoda, please lower your voice,” Sam requested.

“No,” she said, tauntingly, tilting her head with a triumphant grin. “I remembered dessert… and it’s the best ever. I promise. You’re gonna love this one. It’s from a bakery in Simcago.”

She turned and placed her hand on Don’s chest, purposefully sticking her fingers through his open buttons. “Donny and I drove up there last night for a sleigh ride. It was romantic.”

Oh, all the lights are shining
So brightly everywhere
And the sound of children’s
Laughter fills the air

Gage gritted his teeth. More like obnoxious boasting fills the air. 

And everyone is singing
I hear those sleigh bells ringing
Santa, won’t you bring me the one I really need?
Won’t you please bring my baby to me?

Rhoda planted a full kiss on Don’s lips, confirming everyone’s suspicions… that the two were lovers. Howard, thankfully, broke the uncomfortable silence and awkward staring and suggested they pray over the food and then dig in.

“Thank you, Howard,” Gage said, smiling in relief.

Oh, I don’t want a lot for Christmas
This is all I’m asking for
I just want to see my baby
Standing right outside my door

Oh, I just want you for my own
More than you could ever know
Make my wish come true
Baby, all I want for Christmas is you
You, baby

Sam returned in a moment with the chairs while Don, probably feeling uncomfortable about all the strange attention, went to put Christmas presents under the tree. Gage tried to no avail to get his player to stop playing the song, All I Want for Christmas, but the buttons weren’t responding to his fingers.

All I want for Christmas is you, baby
All I want for Christmas is you, baby
All I want for Christmas is you, baby

“Grrr…” he grunted, resorting to pushing all the buttons. All I want for Christmas is for everything to go smoothly and for this to stop…playing…or start playing…something else…anything else… 

“Trouble?” Don said.

“Yeah,” Gage sighed, stepping back and rubbing his chin with a frown.

“Let me see if I can help,” Don replied, walking over to the mantle, and pulling the player off its docking port.

“Sure,” Gage threw his hands in the air, turning away. “Be my guest.”

All I want for Christmas is you, baaaa…

Within a moment, the music stopped mid-word, and then restarted with a male voice bellowing with the dramatic strings of a violin… Chestnuts roasting on an open fire… 

“What did you do?”

“Removed the battery and restarted it.”

Gage grinned. “Genius.”

“I don’t know about that. I worked a little in Simicon Valley near Starlight Shores with a start-up tech company so I know a few things,” Don offered modestly.

“Whatever…man…” Gage patted the guy on the back. “You saved us from All I Want for Christmas…”

“Yeah, I just want Rhoda to get through this evening without pissing anyone else off,” Don chuckled, setting the music player back on the stand. “Opps…did I say that aloud?”

“Yeah,” Gage shrugged. “It’s okay. Thanks for coming.”

“Sure, thanks for having me,” Don said.

Gage didn’t add that he wasn’t expecting him. The man was already feeling out of place.

“So… what do you want for Christmas?” Don said, his green eyes twinkling mischievously. “That Kass girl… she’s hot.”

Gage flushed, hearing Kass’s light laughter flood from the dining room almost simultaneously.

“You datin’ her, man?” Don asked.

“I wish,” Gage said before he could stop himself.

Don wrapped his arm around Gage’s shoulder and squeezed in a friendly manner, pointing up with his other hand. “Get her under the mistletoe then, man… like the song says. You’ve got plenty of it.”

“Hey!” Kass called from the other room, and Gage felt the heat flood his face, as if she knew what they were talking about. “Are you coming? Food’s getting cold.”

After dinner, the odd assortment of “family” gathered in the living room for presents. Missy was still grumbling about Don’s presence, and the man was graciously ignoring her comments, while Rhoda sent eye daggers at her mother. Gage was relieved that nothing escalated. After the exchange of gifts, Howard stood up and began grooving to a Deck the Halls remix. Kass covered her mouth to keep from laughing as Gage spun around awkwardly and offered his hand to Missy Bagley. Sam leaped to his feet and did the same, and Ruby eagerly joined him. Kass pushed aside the coffee table and chairs with the help of Don so there was more space to dance. Don invited Rhoda to dance, and she shook her head. Howard returned to the room with a tray of mulled cider.

“Oh thank God,” Rhoda walked over to the man, grabbed a mug, and downed half the cider. “Oh…” she made a face. “That’s good, but it needs something…”

“I know!” Gage exclaimed, hopping over the presents on the ground.

He raced into the other room and snagged the bottle of rum Constance had brought him as a replacement. He gave Rhoda’s cup a few drops, and she grabbed the bottle and dropped way more liquid in, and then took a sip.

“Oh that’s better,” she smirked.

Everyone added a splash of rum to their cups, drinking, clinking mugs, laughing, and dancing. Even Rhoda began buckling her knees and waving her hands, surprisingly getting into the song. By the time the stereo began playing Run, Run Rudolph, everyone was up and dancing and having a blast.

By the end of the evening, Gage was feeling this was a very successful Christmas as he picked up in the dining room. Kass entered the room, looking a little tipsy as she wobbled in her heels and giggled.

“That was fun, Gage,” she said. “I’m so happy..” she leaned forward and placed her hand on his chest. “I’m so glad… you invited me…” she hiccuped. “Opps…” she giggled. “…invited dad and I here for the holidays. It was perfect.”

He beamed from ear to ear. “It’s not over yet,” he leaned in and whispered.

“That tickles,” she laughed loudly, and placed her hands across her stomach.

Gage led her into the living room and handed her a white box wrapped in a crimson ribbon. She jumped up and down excitedly and clapped her hands, nearly falling over as her heels teetered. He caught her arm and steadied her as she looked at him.

“For me?” she exclaimed.

“No, silly, for your dad,” he teased. “No…of course, for you…”

She laughed gleefully and slid the ribbon off the box, and opened the lid.

“Gage!” she said, laying a hand to her heart as she lifted the scrapbook from the box.

It was filled with pictures and memories, poems, sketches, and doodles of their life together. Kass smiled and laughed and bit her lip and sighed as she flipped through the antique matte photo album, laying her fingers across the pictures with awe and wonder.

“It’s lovely,” she said. “You made this?”

“Yeah, although it wasn’t entirely my idea…” he admitted. “Constance suggested it to me.”

“Yeah, but you had the photos and the drawings from over the years and put it together,” she said softly.

“I worked really hard on it,” he said, proudly. “Flip to the last page.”

She did, and he worried for a moment about what she thought as her face went blank with shock. He lifted her chin and stared into her eyes.

“Do you mean it?” she asked with a whisper, her eyes welling with tears.

“Yes, every word,” he bobbed his head.

With those words, he leaned forward and did the one thing he had longed to do since the first day he met the beautiful bubbly redhead, Kassiopeia Celestia Fullbright.

He kissed her.


Author Note: Ah! Yes! I leave you with a cliffhanger. I had fun with this chapter though. It’s Christmas in July for me, even though I originally planned to finish this series last December to coincide with the holidays. Yes, another Harwood Clay reference… for all your fans. 😉 Don Lothario showed up at the house spontaneously and I thought… what a great way to introduce some tension and excitement! Simbals Gourmet Candies is a play on Gimbals Fine Candies. Although Gimbals was actually founded in San Francisco, California, in my Simworld, they are based in Bluewater, Simisouri, like the Jelly Belly Factory. Sorry for the pic spam. The family’s dance party was just too funny so I included it. Sim-Q is a play off GQ. Simicon Valley is a play on Silicon Valley in California. I hope you also enjoyed the Christmas songs smattering throughout – I was trying to get in the mood seeing as I’m writing this in the middle of summer.

❤ to my Simming friends!

Previous Chapter: 1.36 Rock the Night Away

Next Chapter: Interlude: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year (Kass)

1.35 It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas (FRWL)

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?”

“What?”

“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.

Previous Chapter: 1.34 Tis the Season 

Next Chapter: 1.36 Rock the Night Away

1.34 Tis the Season (FRWL)

The week Anita left, it was dry as bones. The snow had melted in a freakish warm spell, and by noon, Gage was regretting wearing a sweater. Sixty-six degrees in Simcember was annoying. By week’s end, everything was green and even flowers had started blooming again. He couldn’t help but feel like they were being tricked, the world was bound to dump snow on them by Christmas Eve and his birthday, right? And everything would die again. For now, he tried to not feel gloomy by all the bright and cheery colors. Tis the season for snow and icicles and frost, he grumbled as he trudged up the steps to work.

Gage was alone again… and Christmas was only a week away. He dressed, showered, spritzed his best cologne, bought himself an almond mocha, and listened to his favorite band on his drive to work. His aunt Missy had been letting him borrow the car as he just didn’t feel right driving Anita’s Margaret Vaguester, even though she said he could.

The day was filled with activity, plenty of things to keep his mind off his ex-girlfriend’s departure.  Anita had arranged for six of Philippe Errare’s Snowy Landscape paintings to be on display. He also had a gorgeous Christmas village complete with hand-blown glass snowman, reindeer, polar bear, and penguin figurines on loan from the famous sculptor, Harwood Clay. Rayna had helped him unpack the shipping boxes from Twinbrook’s Curios Memorial Museum after lunch. Both of these collections of art would be revealed at a special party on Simcember 24th.

At the suggestion of his boss, Billy, he reached out to Aiden and Hannah Jones to cater. The couple had been trying to start a catering company, and apparently Billy owed them a favor. Gage knew Hannah since she had been around to help model for some of the art classes. He wondered how many jobs the woman had – reporter, model, caterer. Nonetheless, he decided to give the couple’s fledgling business a try. He spent the morning on the phone with Aiden discussing details. After unpacking the boxes from Twinbrook, Gage booked Jon Lessen, local music legend, and his band to play soft Christmas pop songs in the background at the party.

When he left work, Gage was feeling accomplished. He called Little Coriscan Bistro and ordered his favorite takeout. The place was slammed since it was the weekend and a holiday season, so Gage paid and decided he would come back. He popped over to EverFresh Delights and browsed the floral department, picking out poinsettias for the museum, a Christmas red amaryllis for his aunt Missy, and a few evergreen boughs and wreaths for his house. He made a mental note to stop at the tree lot tomorrow at the Riverwalk Park.

Gage called the bistro and they still didn’t have his order, so he began browsing the aisles, realizing he still needed to do his holiday presents shopping. He had no idea what to get everyone, and found himself panicking. Sam likes working out but I can’t think of anything… workout clothes. Naw… man… that’s dumb… I can’t buy my male cousin clothes. Maybe a… he wandered into the magazine and book aisle… a book about airplanes? A subscription to Sporty Sims? No…wow… that’s worse than clothes. How about Rhoda? He rubbed the back of his head. She likes shiny things.  Rob a jeweler? he chuckled weakly. Yeah, sure… he browsed the gift cards. He couldn’t find any for jewelry stores. His aunt Missy might like a… a what? he wandered into the packaged dried fruits and nuts section. Dried chocolate covered cranberries? Green chili and lime cashews?  Honeyed peanut brittle?

I need a drink! Gage walked past the dairy coolers and spotted the eggnog.

Tis the season!” one of the grocers stocking the shelves smiled and tilted her head to the side, offering a wink.

“Sure,” he agreed. “And a bottle of rum?”

“Aisle nine,” she replied.

While picking out the spiced rum, Gage figured he should send Pablo something, and probably get something for Ruby, Sam’s girlfriend, and maybe he should send a gift to Anita. They had just broken up, but it would be the nice thing to do. But the more Gage thought about it, the more overwhelmed he grew, feeling at a total loss for what to get people. He returned to the checkout stand, feeling despondent about his inability to pick out gifts. I need help! 
After picking up his dinner and loading things into his car, he saw the lights in the library still on and Constance’s car in the lot. Just his luck.

“Can you recommend a good book to read at Christmas?” he asked.

“Gage,” her face lit up into a bright, buoyant smile. “A Christmas book?”

“Yeah, tis the season,” he repeated the phrase from the girl at the grocery store.

A Christmas Carol: The Tale of Scrooge by Charles Simpkins is always a favorite of mine,” she replied after a moment. “It’s a storyof discovering oneself and generosity of spirit.”

“Sounds perfect,” he grinned. “Although…” he leaned on the desk and she quit clacking away on the keys. “…I had an ulterior motive coming in here.”

“Oh,” she looked up at him, scrunching her nose as her glasses slid from their fixed position.

“Have you eaten yet?” he asked.

“No,” she narrowed her eyes. “But I really have so much work to do.”

“Come on Constance. It’s past closing time and you’re still here,” he offered his hand.

“I have to input all these returns,” she protested.

“Do it in the morning,” he said. “And your stomach betrays you.”

She flushed, laying a hand across her rumbling abdomen. “What do you have?”

“Three cheese red pepper ravioli, honey peppered chicken bites, house-made garlic knots, tossed garden salad with red onion, carrot, and tomatoes, and warm cranberry apple pie,” Gage replied, purposefully dragging out his words in an enticing manner. “And I think I have some vanilla ice cream in the freezer for the pie.”

Constance turned off her computer monitor and rose to her feet. “Say no more. You had me at three cheese red pepper ravioli.”

“I’ve got rum and eggnog too,” Gage said, hooking arms with Constance as she slung her purse over her opposite shoulder.

“Oh Gage…” she leaned her head into his shoulder tiredly. “You tempt me.”

“What? You don’t drink?” he joked.

“No… I mean… yes, but usually just weak wine,” she yawned.

“You can’t let me drink alone,” he said with a mock frown.

“Okay, tis the season,” she giggled. “You said it. I’ll have one glass… one glass…” she lifted her finger to emphasize her point. “…of rum and eggnog.”

“Oh shoot! I can’t,” she gasped. “I have to go home and feed my cats.”

“You have cats. Why does that not surprise me?” he teased.

“Stop it,” she smacked his arm in a friendly manner. “I also have a lizard.”

“Really?” he quirked a brow. “Okay, that breaks the stereotype. How about I come over to your place? I already have the food in my car. I could follow you.”

She thought for a moment as they walked out the front entrance and she locked the door. “I guess that would be alright.”

“And I need your help with something while we eat,” he said, walking Constance to her car.

“Sure,” she leaned on the edge of her car door and smiled sweetly.

“Will you help me get ready for Christmas?”

It was a brief drive to Constance’s home – 24 Long Island Drive.  Gage leaned against her car, holding the bags of food while Constance dug through her car for her pale pink laptop case, heart-shaped purse, a stack of books, a newspaper, a box of cat food, a package of gum, and a tube of lipstick. He smirked, but avoided making a comment. She obviously needed to clean out her car, but he knew her work came first. He admired the quaint brick home with the cobblestone pathway before him. The house was devoid of Christmas decorations as Constance admitted she had hardly any time to spruce up the house for the holidays since she had been drowning in work. While he waited for her to finish grunting and searching, he returned to his car and grabbed a wreath.

“For your door,” he said.

“Oh, I couldn’t,” she flushed, and brushed a stray hair from her face. “Was that wind?” she looked heavenward. “I hope that means snow.”

“Tis the season,” he shrugged, and draped the pine needle wreath with a bright red ribbon around her neck.

She made a face, and then laughed. “I suppose that’s as good of a place as any.”

They crossed the street, and she stopped at her mailbox, but then decided against it because her hands were too full. Constance struggled with her keys at the red front door, and he made a mental note to bring her some evergreen boughs for her wrought iron fencing around her porch. Upon entering the house, they were greeted by two cats, an orange tabby and a blue-grey kitten. Gage knelt down to the floor and petted the cat closest to them.

“What are their names?” he asked.

“Oh,” Constance replied, walking around the corner into what he presumed was her kitchen. “The tabby is Tigris and the kitten is Euphrates.”

“Like the ancient Earth rivers,” he smiled as the kitten purred and rubbed his leg.

“You know your geography,” she remarked, followed by a clattering sound.

“Are you okay?” he stood up.

He wandered around the corner and saw all of her items collapsed on the floor.

“I’m so embarrassed,” she flushed as he helped her pick up the items. “I’m not a crazy lady.”

“I never said you were,” he winked at her as he stood to his feet “Glasses?”

“Uh…” she puffed a piece of hair out of her eyes. “On my face?”

“No, silly…” he smiled. “For drinking?”

“In the cupboard above the stove,” she waved her arm tiredly.

He reached upward. “This is an odd place.”

“Those are where I keep my liquor glasses,” she explained. “My dad used to keep all his alcohol above the stove and the glasses for them up there too. So I guess I just arranged my kitchen similarly out of habit.”

“Drink a lot as a teen?” he grinned, snagging two glass snifters and reaching in his brown paper bag for the eggnog and rum.

“Actually…” she shrugged and offered a wistful smile. “I had a bit of a rebellious phase.”

“Constance Shelley,” he grinned. “Do tell.”

“Not really wanting to,” she sighed, and lazily leaned on the counter. “It’s a long story.”

As she dropped her head and stretched out her arms, she smacked the newly opened bottle of rum against Gage’s stomach hard.

“Oof!” he exclaimed as his sweater, shirt, and pants were soaked with the brown alcohol.

“Oh my goodness!” she shouted, and reached out to help him as the glass shattered on the floor. “Oh I’m so sorry… I’m… uh… er…” she glanced about frantically, grabbing paper towels off the far counter and bringing them to him and as she did, she knocked over the open carton of eggnog.

Her face turned bright scarlet, and she ran her hands through her hair. ” Oh! Goodness! Dangnabbit! I messed up my hair… Oh… wow… I shouldn’t be thinking about me. Oh… I’m sorry. Oh goodness! Sugar beets! Plum! I’m sorry.”

He glanced down at his clothes, pulling his hand away as both liquids dripped over his skin. “Sugar beets?” he made a face.

“I…uh… don’t mind me and my old-fashioned phrases…” she hurriedly mopped at his sweater with the paper towel, avoiding making eye contact.

He grabbed her wrist gently. “It’s okay. I was hot in these clothes anyway. I think I have some gym clothes in my car.”

“Great, and then you can change upstairs in my bathroom,” she said in an awkwardly cheery voice. “Um…if you want you can rinse too… since you smell like…” she instinctively leaned forward and sniffed him. “…rum and eggnog… and…” she wrinkled her nose. “…blood orange?”

“Good nose,” he laughed, taking the paper towels and throwing them in her trash can. “It’s my cologne you’re smelling.”

“Oh uh… um…” her cheeks brightened again.

He took a step backward. “I’ll check my car for the clothes.”

“Sure, sounds great,” she remarked. “No Euphrates!” she howled and lifted her hands into her hair again, making even more of a mess of her bun.

Gage laughed as the kitten lapped up the drops of eggnog on the floor.

A half hour later, Gage returned downstairs, having showered and changed into his gym clothes. Given the warmth of the evening, he wasn’t even cold in his tee shirt and shorts. Constance was bent by the fireplace attempting to kindle the logs with her lighter. He tried not to stare as her skirt curved tightly over her behind and he stepped over her extended leg.

“I thought we could use a fire,” she said, hurriedly. “I know it’s kinda warm, but it might feel more festive and like the Christmas season if we do.”

“That’s fine,” he replied, averting his eyes as the tall librarian returned to her full height.

The logs crackled and sparked. Constance replaced the lighter on the mantle, and gave her head an absent pat. He noticed she fixed her bun, less elaborate than her usual braid, but nonetheless, still pretty. The microwave dinged and he assumed she had thoughtfully reheated their dinner.

“I’ll go get that,” he offered.

“No, I should,” she insisted. “You bought dinner and then I ruined your clothes. I threw them in the washer by the way. I can have them back to you before you leave…well…” she glanced down at her hands uncomfortably. “If you don’t mind staying past midnight for them.”

“I’m okay with that,” he shrugged. “Tomorrow is Sunday.”

Constance slid around him into the kitchen. “Do you want something to drink?” she called back. “I’m sorry about the rum and eggnog. I’ll repay you. I promise.”

“Don’t worry about it,” he replied, following her. “Are you sure I can’t help you?”

“Oh no,” she said lightly. “I got it…” she grabbed their plates and set them on the counter. “Here, I can get you a glass of water. It’s not the same…” she opened the cupboard, grabbed a cup, and stuck it under the faucet. “…but it’ll keep you from being parched. Otherwise, I have hot cinnamon tea… I think…” she rifled through the cupboard with her free hand. “…oh…um… I guess not… I have to go shopping.”

“Water is fine,” Gage replied.

She shoved a glass into his hand and smiled sheepishly. “I’m such a klutz. I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it,” he shook his head. “Kass is too. I’m used to it.”

He took a sip.

“Have you talked to her?” Constance asked, and then quickly turned around to grab their plates. “Oh I’m sorry. That was probably rude of me to ask.”

“Naw… don’t worry about it. No I haven’t. I bought her a card for her birthday, but I didn’t send it.”

“Why not?”

Because I was too chicken. 

“Um… because… it just didn’t…seem right…” he took a big gulp of water.

“We can go eat in the living room,” she motioned to the doorway.

He followed, and settled on the couch and she sat in the chair. They ate their food, and Constance pried… more than she should… into details about Kass, but he didn’t mind. It was nice to have someone to talk with, even if she did spill rum and eggnog all over him.

She opened up a little herself, about a guy she had been very serious with, although she was careful not to say his name. That little fact didn’t escape Gage’s notice. Constance kicked off her shoes to get more comfortable, commenting on how delicious the food was before returning to the subject of former loves. He got the sense that the guy took advantage of Constance, and took her for granted, and he had a hard time imagining anyone doing that since she was such a sweet friend. She shrugged and said the guy traveled a lot for work, and the distance made it easy for them to come back together, but it was never satisfying. Somehow this affirmed to him he had made the right decision about Anita. A long distance relationship with a few visits every once in awhile for a hook-up really wasn’t what he was looking for, and Constance pretty much admitted she did this for two years, an on-again, off-again, heated, but turbulent romance before ending things.

“It broke my heart too,” she offered softly.

He resisted the urge to reach for her hand, instead fiddling with his fork.

“…but it was for the best and we wanted different things so it wouldn’t have worked,” she sighed heavily, and met his eyes with a half-smile. “…I deserved better and I stayed way longer than I should have, but I’m happier now.”

“I’m…uh…” he fumbled for words. “…glad you’re happier now.”

“Now about Kass…” Constance straightened in her seat. “I think you should call her.”

Before he could chicken out, he dialed his former friend’s number and was surprised when Kass answered, and he covered the mouthpiece, breathing hard in and out, trying to calm his nerves.

Gage?” it was so good to hear her voice.

“Hi…” he croaked.

It’s really late there. Is everything okay?” Kass asked.

Yeah, everything’s fine. I was….uh… wondering…what are your plans for Christmas? I know you’re traveling with your dad and all, and I know that you’re…” he stood and began pacing. “…probably busy and probably don’t want to see me. And I was a jerk and all to you, but I hope we can put that past us and you can come here so we can…” he thought back to Anita’s words about her former father-in-law. “…so I can…ask for your forgiveness in person?”

He hesitated with his last words, feeling vulnerable, but Constance squeezed his hand, giving him a dose of confidence. Kass didn’t say anything, and he was worried she would say no.

“…what do you say, Kassiopeia? Don’t leave a guy hanging,” he chuckled weakly. “I…um… tis the season…for making up and stuff. You know, holiday spirit and everything. I’d hate for you to still be mad at me, and hate me…” he bit his lower lip, slowing those last few words.

I don’t hate you,” she replied softly.

“Well, good,” he took this as a positive sign. “…so will you come? You and your dad? I have plenty of room at my new house and you can meet my relatives. They aren’t so bad, you know. I know you were worried about them and all… and oh! I met some other relatives… an older brother and sister… they’re twins.”

Gage, that’s great!” her voice sounded croaky. “I should apologize too. I’m sorry… I was…kinda a jerk before too. I shouldn’t have tried to hold you back and everything… now that I’ve been traveling with my dad and I think about all those years my mamma didn’t let me…be around him… well… I know how you feel, I guess.”

“All’s forgiven,” he said, a lump forming in his throat.

Constance grinned at him, and gave him a thumbs up as she picked up their dinner plates and wandered into the kitchen.

You really met more siblings?” 

“Yeah. I hope you can meet them… if you come. Will you come?”

“Hold on… let me check with my dad.”

The line made a small sound as she muted him, and he smiled at Constance as she returned with a fresh water glass.

“She’s checking with her dad,” he whispered.

“That’s great” Constance murmured.

We can be there on the twenty-third,” Kass returned to the line.

“Awesome! I am happy you’re coming! Really, Kass! It’ll be great to see you.”

You too.”

“Just in time for Christmas.”

Just in time for your birthday…” she giggled. “…or did you forget, silly?

“Oh, right!” he smacked his forehead.

Simcember 24th was Christmas Eve, and also his twentieth birthday.

I’ll bring you a present.”

“Just you being here will be enough.”

I know… but I want to,” she said.

“I’ll text you the address,” he replied.

Thanks. I should go, Gage. But I’ll see you Wednesday.”

Four days? How would he ever wait?

“See you Wednesday…” he hit the end button. “Constance?”

“Yes, I know,” she laughed. Now,” she swished her hands as she stood up and walked to her bookshelf. “You wanted a recipe for a Yule log? I have one in a book somewhere.”

“Yeah,” he said, picking up his water glass. “I was thinking I should host a Christmas party at my house. My aunt Missy mentioned liking it. Is it any good?”

“Let’s see…” Constance returned to her chair, and began flipping through the pages of a cookbook. “It’s got chocolate so I’m sure Kass will love it.”

“Yeah, she likes chocolate,” he nodded. “I’d like everything to be perfect. Do you think this Yule cake…stump…log thingy will do it?”

“It’s a pretty popular dessert in the Sim Union. I made it once for the library Christmas party and it was a big success. I could come over and help you if you want.”

“I’d like that,” he replied, smiling.

Gage had the feeling he would enjoy a long friendship with Constance. He smirked.

“What?” she looked at him, her eyes twinkling.

“I was just thinking…” he began, rubbing his chin in mock seriousness.

“Yes?” she made a face.

“You’d look cute covered in flour,” he laughed, already ducking the pillow she threw at him.

Previous Chapter: 1.33 The End of a Dream

Next Chapter: Coming Soon

 

1.32 Trouble in Paradise (FRWL)

Gage knew things wouldn’t be the same after Anita’s confession. They returned to Riverview after that night, and he tried really hard to make her happy. Breakfasts in bed. Bubble baths. Doing the dishes. He brought her flowers. He read her poetry. He made dinners at home so she wouldn’t have to go out.

Anita was still worried about the press. Surprisingly, the gossip magazines had been silent about his relationship with the young widow, and he hadn’t heard any rumors among the usual culprits, like the Spenster sisters. Even so, Anita was growing increasingly paranoid so Gage was the one collecting the mail, taking out the trash, and going to work. Anita spent most of her days in bed, never getting dressed, and watching soap operas. He didn’t understand her reclusive nature. It was as if telling him the truth had weakened her, and she had spiraled into a strange depression. He understood mood swings quite well, but what he didn’t understand was why Anita was so upset as he thought that sharing the burden of her dark secret would help.

It didn’t.

They still made love.

They ate together.

They watched television together.

They even talked… mostly in bed.

But Anita didn’t want to go outside. He didn’t pressure her. And they didn’t really talk. They never once brought up the incident with her dad’s coach again. Gage tried to respect her wishes. He didn’t want her to relapse. She claimed she was tired and telling him exhausted her. He could understand that… but over a week later?

Finals approached, and Gage realized he needed to study if he was going to pass. He sketched his outline on the white board in his art room, hoping to get some ideas for his final paper. When that failed to help, he started to doodle, but couldn’t come up with anything that satisfied him. After changing from his painting clothes, Gage head to the library. Anita texted him and asked if he would pick up some salted caramel ice cream at the store.

After spending all afternoon in the library, he stopped into EverFresh Delights Supermarket and headed for the frozen foods section. His phone dinged, and he glanced at the reminder message. Today was Kass’ birthday.

After everything that had happened, he wondered if she wanted to hear from him. He wrestled with this thought while he stood in the checkout line. Then he plucked his phone from his pocket and dialed. He hit the “end” button as it was his turn to pay. When he finished paying, he walked back to the greeting cards section. Perhaps he should get Kass a card instead, though he had no idea where he should mail it. He scrolled through his emails on his phone, finding Kass make mention of a place called Casa de la Esperanza. Maybe she was staying there in Mexsimco. Selecting a card he thought she would appreciate, he returned to the checkout stand and wrestled with himself about calling again. When Kass didn’t pick up, he nearly hit end again, but then decided to sing a rendition of “happy birthday” that Kass taught him when they were younger. There, he decided. That should make her smile. 

Gage had nearly reached his car when he decided he would go back inside and grab some firewood. He could build a fire for Anita tonight and make some goopy carbonara, one of her favorites, and he could coax her out the bedroom for a romantic dinner in the living room. He frowned. But that means I need some pancetta and an onion.  Returning to the store, Gage quickly plucked the items he needed from the shelf and returned to the check-out stand.

“Gage?” a voice called out to him.

He turned to see the owner of the voice.

“Cerise?” his eyes grew wide. “What are you doing in Riverview?”

The woman looked tireder than he remembered her, and she wore less cosmetics than normal, but her eyes brightened when she saw him. She smirked and grabbed a candy bar from the nearby stand.

“I heard your candy here is exceptional,” she laughed lightly.

“Oh really?” he quirked a brow. “Then you should try the Chunky Nougat Surprise. They package it here at the Cannery in town.”

“Ugh!” she rolled her eyes. “Don’t mention chunky… anything… that’s just… disgusting.”

“No seriously… what are you doing in Riverview?” he asked.

“Um…” she tilted her head to the side and her lips parted as if she was about to say something and then she changed her mind.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“Yeah… yes, I’m fine,” she remarked. “I just…I’m in a bit of a hurry. We can catch up soon. I just stopped to get some plasma juice…” she lifted the pack in her hand. “…before I head back to Simcago. I didn’t expect to see anyone I knew. I forgot you lived here.”

Gage frowned. Cerise was acting odd, but he decided not to press.

“Okay, well…” he pulled out his wallet and handed her a card. “If you want to catch up sometime, I’m in the City on Tuesdays and Thursdays for class.”

“Fancy…” she made a face, perching the card between her middle and forefinger. “The Octagon House? That’s respectable work.”

“Yeah, I’ve been there for awhile now,” he replied. “I thought I told you.”

“No,” she shook her head with a smile. “We didn’t exactly talk about our lives when we were together, you know?” she winked. “Oh… my turn…” she moved forward in line. “I’m really busy, Gage. I don’t know when I’ll have time.”

“Call,” he said, narrowing his eyes a little and then smiled. “Really… I’d like to hear what’s going on with you.”

She swallowed hard, and turned her head sharply. “Okay, I’ll call.”

“You went to see a hooker!?!?”

Gage had arrived home and walked upstairs to check on his girlfriend when Anita had flown out of the bedroom, fully dressed and armed for an argument. She took a swing at him.

“What? No!” he protested, lifting his arms defensively. “Anita, how many times do I have to tell you? I went to the library and the grocery store and then home.”

“Nadine Ivanov heard you!” Anita yelled.

“Wait, what?” he frowned. “Nadine who?”

“You know. She’s the daughter of your secretary,” she replied in a patronizing tone.

“Administrative assistant,” he corrected.

“Whatever,” she grunted. “She saw you two together.”

“Saw me with whom?” he asked, worried for the answer.

“The hooker!” Anita shrieked.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he sighed.

“The woman… you were at the store with a woman…”

“Cerise?”

“She has a name.”

“Yes. Anita, what the hell? I’m with you.”

“She said you made plans to meet up.”

“Meet uh… I…” Gage dropped his head. “…Anita, who said?”

“Nadine. She called here.”

“I thought you didn’t tell anyone about our relationship, Anita.”

“No… yes… Nadine is a friend. And don’t think that gets you off the hook. Sarah… Shanice…or whatever her name is… is a hooker…”

“No!” Gage threw his hands up in the air. “Cerise… her name is Cerise… and she’s not a hooker. Anita… you know I have a past. I went out with the woman once.”

Technically stayed in, he reminded himself, but he knew Anita was in no frame of mind right now to hear the full truth.

“Then why did Nadine say that she saw her coming out of the women’s health clinic downtown today?” Anita said, her pitch reaching an unnatural octave. When Gage looked completely lost, she continued, “And everyone knows County Care runs a free health clinic on the first of the month for women in the…” she narrowed her eyes almost disdainfully. “…in the sex industry.”

Gage was baffled. Where was this coming from? How was it that he got himself in trouble… yet again? He knew full well what Cerise did for a living, but he didn’t really think about the full implications of that. Anita looked about ready to foam at the mouth.

“Anita, calm down. Cerise…yes, I know her. I told you. I had a relationship with her… a really brief one… and I haven’t seen her since…”

Well once when I stopped by her apartment, but Anita doesn’t need to know that. 

“…and how does Nadine know all this? She followed her from the clinic? What was Nadine doing at this… this… women’s clinic… for sex workers?”

“Nadine and I…” she lowered her voice. “…have a friend… well, we went to high school with her…Ginny…she needs a little extra money every now and again… her husband drinks or there’s a bad crop, and her kids need stuff… and she works…well, she’s an exotic dancer…”

“That’s what Cerise is.”

“Uh uh… no… I heard about her… a vamp or whatever she is…and she belongs to a house and I hear they are really lax about sleeping with clients,  and you went home with her, am I right?”

Gage frowned, feeling attacked from all sides. “That still doesn’t answer my question, Anita, about why Nadine followed Cerise.”

“She was dropping Ginny off for a check-up, okay? And she saw… well… it doesn’t matter what she saw… she saw you… and that woman… together… at the grocery store… and exchanging phone numbers… and… laughing…”

“Just because she was at the women’s clinic doesn’t mean that she works in the sex industry.”

“Oh gawd… Gage! Don’t be naive! Your cousin works at that same bar as Ginny does and I know what goes on after hours sometimes. Ginny’s had a paid one night stand or two.  She says the boss even encourages it sometimes… to take jobs on the side instead of paying her tips. I’m sure your cousin does too. We both saw her there.”

“Why are you talking about Rhoda now?” he glared at Anita. “Look I don’t know what you want me to say. I went to the store to get food for us so I could make dinner and I ran into an ex and chatted for a few minutes.”

“An ex who is a hooker!”

“Anita, calm down!”

“No, I will not calm down…” Anita turned and stomped down the stairs. “I’m going out. Don’t follow me.”

For the rest of the week, they argued. If it wasn’t about Cerise, it was about something else. If Gage was actually spending all his time studying. If he saw an attractive woman at work. Why Gage had gone to a place like a vampire house in the first place. Why Gage had proposed to another woman earlier this year. Oh yes, somehow she knew. Somehow Anita had excellent sources. Gage sighed. He could not win with this woman. It seemed like no matter what he said or did, she wasn’t happy.

He tried to reason with her. He tried to let things cool off. He even spent one night in the city with Sam, and Anita flew into a jealous rage, asking if Sam’s girlfriend, Ruby had spent the night also, and it wasn’t until she talked to his cousin that she believed him.

Dude, you need to figure things out with Anita,” Sam had said. “She’s going berserk on you.”

I know,” he sighed, staring at his shoes.

He returned home to try and paint in his studio to clear his head, but Anita cornered him again, this time hooting and howling about the birthday card for Kass she had found in his backpack. He wanted to address the snooping through his personal belongings thing but she barely let him get a word in, freaking out about the wording on the card.

I always love you!” she yelled. “What is this? You love this Kass woman! You do! I got myself another cheater!”

“Kass is my best friend,” he balled his fists and shouted defensively. “I love her like a friend… nothing more…”

“Oh, nothing more!” she threw her hands in the air. “Sure… I’d believe that except this is a romantic card, Gage. I’m not a llama-flipping moron!”

“You need to calm down, Anita. I don’t understand why you can’t just trust me!” he yelled.

“I would trust you, but you haven’t given me reason to. You’re meeting up with women like Cerise…” she spat out hatefully. “At the grocery store… and you’re writing cards like this to that Kass woman… who you say is a friend, but I doubt that. And you’ve been with how many women this year?”

“Anita, that’s not fair and you know it,” he said, his voice dropping to an icy cold tone. “And you said you went on a one-night stand spree in the Sim Union after Phillippe’s death so you’re no better now, are you?”

“You never said you loved me, Gage,” Anita cried dramatically. “Not once. But you wrote I love you in that card to your best friend.”

“We have history,” he gritted his teeth.

“Yeah, I can see that.”

Anita stared at him, panting heavily as she wrung her hands nervously. Gage glared at her. This was the woman he had moved in with? It had all happened too fast. He knew that now. He knew Anita was too much for him to handle, and as much as he wanted to be with someone… anyone… he knew he couldn’t live like this.

“I think I should move out.”

Previous Chapter: 1.31 Demons in the Closet

Next Chapter: Coming Soon!