Four Days Earlier
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
Nothing like a hefty dose of Simspeare first thing in the morning. Kass had been reading on her tablet – the story of the star-crossed lovers – while lying in bed. It seemed almost appropriate given she and Billy were destined not to be. Somehow she knew this deep in her heart. Why do I always jump in head first without thinking? First Davis, then Billy, then Gage, and then Billy again. As she slid into the booth at the table in the trailer, Kass found herself face to face with the very flower Billy had given her a few weeks before. If only everything had stayed so happy and innocent. But she wasn’t naive anymore. There was so much more to the world than she had ever realized, and while this time, it wasn’t entirely Billy’s fault, she knew things couldn’t continue like they were.
They still hadn’t really talked in the last few days. Billy had been busy with his art lessons with Pierce Shawkti’s daughter and Peter Winterly’s son and doing some kind of job for or with Deon Merton, which Kass was pretty certain that wasn’t his real name. As she still hadn’t worked up the nerve to tell him she was freaked out by sex, she realized she couldn’t hold it against him if he didn’t think anything was wrong. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. Maybe he would understand. Who am I kidding? Kass poked at a strawberry in the fruit salad. He’s been with a dozen plus one women. He won’t want to go without.
Kass finished her breakfast. Howard had left her a fruit salad with her favorite berries, toasted coconut, pomegranate seeds, kiwi, and roasted almonds drizzled in a raspberry poppyseed dressing. She was grateful after all these years he was still making her food. This morning he headed to the gym for an early start with the therapist, and then was planning to swing by Dr. Rhoen’s home for a EXCES support group session. She was glad he found camaraderie and encouragement. He needed it. She did too, but she wasn’t sure she was ready to reach out. Taking the pills was the first step. So far, she felt okay.
Frozen water chunks dropped from the sink head. Great! Kass hit the faucet a few times but to no avail. The water refused to re-liquefy, the downside of trailer pipes in winter. She only had a single dish to wash and a coffee cup, but she hated to leave it unwashed. Perhaps she could sneak over to Billy’s house and grab a roll of heat tape. He said something about it working wonders. She glanced at her watch. And he wouldn’t be home right now as this was his normal session with Miss Shawkti.
Kass stepped outside, neglecting her coat as she was only going a short distance. The view from Billy’s yard was spectacular, everything was covered in a glorious white. Azure Lake reflected everything like a mirror on its smooth icy surface. She wished she had a pair of skates, but then again, she had never been great with the balance issues. The evergreens were coated with a light layer of snow, making the woods appear practically magical. It was such a pristine and beautiful day. Kass almost felt melancholy. It was too perfect. Nothing’s that perfect, she thought cynically.
Without knocking, she walked in the back door of her boyfriend’s home. He usually left it unlocked and seeing as she was the only one home, she figured the knock was a useless gesture. She perused the kitchen drawers, but was unable to find what she was looking for, and then tried rummaging through the hall desk. Nothing. Kass wrinkled her nose as she stared up at blank walls. If she would stay with him longer, she would spruce up the place. The walls could use some paintings, and the tables, some fresh flowers, the shelves, some books. Since it was only a rental, and Billy was a guy, she figured he cared little for pretty fixtures. And yet the emptiness of the place induced even more sadness. Are these working right? she wondered about her pills. Aren’t I supposed to feel less upset?
She remembered that Billy once said that he liked to keep tools in the bedroom. Top dresser drawers. It was an odd habit, but Billy wasn’t exactly the average guy. Kass wandered into the bedroom, almost tentatively. This was where Billy slept. Somehow it felt private, even if she was his girlfriend, a girlfriend with whom he had been intimate. She stared at the bed longingly.
That’s probably where it should’ve happened. Is it normal to obsess like this? She tugged at her sweater sleeves. She needed to focus. The tall standing mirror next to the dresser rocked back and forth. She frowned. That’s odd. She shivered, and realized the window was open.
Running over, she slammed and latched the window. The mirror continued to squeak for a moment, still rocking by the sudden rush of air. Kass stepped over to steady the looking glass. As she slowed its movement, another frame caught her eye. Something was under the bed. Kass turned and knelt down out of curiosity.
She tugged the white frame with the blue matte background from beneath the bed. It was a photograph of Billy, a younger version of Billy, lovingly holding a woman, presumably a girlfriend. Kass frowned. Though her hair was longer, she looked familiar. I know her. Kass’s eyes grew wide. It was Constance Shelley from Riverview, that friend of Gage’s.
She flipped the frame to read the inscription on the back. It was dated Valensim’s Day nearly seven years prior. The words read, “To Bill. All my love, Connie.” Bill? Connie? Kass grimaced. Was this the long lost love of Billy’s? She gasped, the photograph nearly slipping from her hands. Was this his… mate? The woman he was supposed to be with forever? The one he abandoned? It couldn’t be. She couldn’t be. Kass sat down on the edge of the blue blanket on the bed. She didn’t know what to think or feel. She was pretty sure Constance was a lovely woman, but she had never suspected she was werewolf or anything else for that matter. And she was pretty sure Gage had a crush on her.
Oh the complications! Kass grunted and flopped back on the bed, throwing an arm behind her neck. It’s like a love-triangle-square-hexagon thingy. Gage liked Kass. Kass liked Billy. Billy once liked Constance. Gage liked Constance. At least she thought he did. But he also liked that Anita woman. At one point he liked Natalya. And Billy liked many other women too. I can’t… even… Kass tugged at the edge of her sweater. It was suddenly too warm in the house.
Simnadia was beautiful. She felt like she was in a painting and couldn’t find the frame. The only thing that isn’t supposed to be here is me, she thought woefully as she collapsed on the bench. She wasn’t sure where she belonged. She wasn’t sure where she was supposed to be. Or how she was supposed to feel. She swiped at a lone tear. The frigid air nipped at her exposed skin and through her sweater, jeans, and boots, but she didn’t care so much about the cold. She stared out at the powdered sugar mountain across the frozen lake, dotted with trees that looked like toys from a distance. Everything looks better under snow. It hides all the imperfections, she decided, all the jagged edges no one wants to see. Yet Kass knew they were still there. They were all still there.
She returned to the trailer before coming back to the bench in Billy’s backyard. She needed something to make her happy. The lime green photo album was just what she needed to laugh, to smile, to cry. All of it. She needed to feel all of it. It was the only way to move forward. She had to close this chapter of her life, and let go of her past. She was a very different girl than she was a mere eight months before. Kass smiled sadly as she wistfully brushed the pages of pictures of her two best friends and her in high school and graduation. If only she could go back…
“What are you doing here?”
She dropped the book in the snow, startled by a vision of her former best friend and former boyfriend, breathing heavily. She stood up and walked toward him, almost afraid it was a mirage, and then hoping he wasn’t really here. He couldn’t be here.
“I see you were looking at my gift,” Gage said softly.
“Wha…what are you? Why are you? Oh!” she smacked the sides of her face. “You can’t be here.”
“But I am,” Gage stepped forward, reaching for her, but she stepped back.
“Ga…Gage… you can’t be. We’re done. We’re through. We’re over. Oh gawd!” Kass leaned over and seized her knees in shock, breathing in quick, erratic patterns. “You have a child coming. You have… Natalya!”
Gage shook his head. “She doesn’t make me feel like you do. And you needed me.”
“Wha? Oh…fudge…Gage, you can’t…” Kass placed a hand over her heart. “You can’t be here. You can’t come running like this.”
“But you called me.”
“It was a mistake.”
“You needed me,” he said, forcefully, as he took a step forward.
“Maybe I did… but I shouldn’t have called you…I…” Kass clutched at her sweater, trying to calm her wildly beating heart.
Despite the cold, she could feel the perspiration on her neck. Her ex-best friend and ex-boyfriend just flew to or drove to…she wasn’t certain… Simnadia at the drop of a hat… because she had a moment of weakness and called him. It would be romantic or sweet if she felt anything for him. Anything. But where her heart was…instead was a lump of coal or a block of ice when it came to Gage Briody. She wanted to feel better. She wanted to feel more. But she couldn’t. And she never would. Why oh why didn’t he understand that? Why didn’t he get it?
“Gage… you should go,” she said quietly.
“What? I just got here,” he reached for and squeezed her hands.
“I…uh…” her voice cracked and she felt trapped, and then she saw Billy marching down the back steps of his house, and he didn’t look happy.
“Oh hell,” she murmured.
“Gage Briody! What the hell are you doing here?” Billy began, waving his arms frantically.
“Um… Billy… I can explain,” she said, weakly, staring at Gage.
He either didn’t hear her or he chose to ignore her. “I got a call from Joab, the security guard, and he said you didn’t show up to work yesterday or today… obviously, not today… you’re here.”
Kass placed a hand over her heart. Oh good! He thinks this is about work! This can still be salvaged. She felt a temporary relief.
“If you came to beg for your job in person, you could’ve saved yourself a wasted trip,” Billy grunted. “Dude, I gave you a break and you blew it. Last month you missed a major shipment that cost us thousands of Simoleons because you ran off to Simlaska and this month, you flew up to the Springs because what? You got cabin fever and you wanted to ski? What the hell are you doing here? You better have a damn good explanation.”
“I. Love. Kass,” Gage bit the words out and whipped his gaze to her.
Kass gasped. No, no, no, no, no. This can’t be happening. Not again. How come he wouldn’t give up? Why couldn’t he take a hint?
Billy released a forced and odd laugh, running his hand through his hair. “So that’s what this is about? You can’t let the girl go?”
Kass’ heart rate accelerated. This wasn’t good.
“You flew all the way here to see Kass. Why?” Billy laughed mirthlessly.
“Because she called me,” Gage stuck his chin in the air.
“Is that true?” Billy looked at Kass.
She winced. “Um?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Gage walked over and took Kass’ hand. “Even if she didn’t call me, I would’ve come anyhow. You hurt her, you bastard!”
All the color drained from Kass’ face. No, no, no! I can’t. This can’t. Say something, Kass.
“I hurt her?” Billy’s eyes widened. “You risked your job for a girl who doesn’t even love you? Who never loved you?”
“Billy, stop…” she partially found her voice.
“You need to go home and think about your priorities,” Billy said. “If you can’t tell, Kass is with me now, and she left you because she doesn’t love you. Only a loser chases a person they can’t have.”
“GAH!” Gage angrily shoved Billy back in the snow. “I love her. That’s all that matters. And you… can you say you do?”
“What’s going on here?”
Howard appeared in the yard, surprised to see Gage. Kass ran to his side.
“Daddy!” she wailed, feeling like a helpless child the moment the word left her mouth, but somehow the use of a childlike term of endearment was justifiable in the moment.
“It’s okay, sweetie. I got this,” Howard patted her shoulders reassuringly before stepping around her. “Gage, why are you here?”
“Kass called me.”
Kass looked helplessly between Billy and Gage. “I…did…” she admitted. “But it’s not what you think, Billy…” she continued, and narrowed her eyes as she looked at Gage. “…or what you think, Gage.”
“I think the guy’s trying to win her back,” Billy shrugged. “You don’t get any points for showing up for a girl who doesn’t even want you.”
Gage lunged for Billy.
“Whoa, son, you wanna back it up?” Howard lifted his arms as he stepped into referee the two men.
Billy took a step back. Gage continued forward, much to Kass’ dismay.
“I’m not your son,” Gage bit out, bitterly. “Back off Howard.”
“Gage, stop this!” Kass wailed.
“You lost, man, give it up,” Billy waved his hand apathetically.
“Gage… calm down, son…” Howard said, laying a hand gently on the young man’s shoulder.
“I said… BACK OFF!” Gage roared.
Billy dodged. Unable to stop his momentum, Gage whacked Howard. Kass cried out in horror, covering her face, almost afraid to watch as her frail father plummeted into the snow, sitting down so hard so was afraid he broke something, after Gage hit him square across the jaw. Billy stepped between Gage and Kass in a defensive posture, snorting as the frustration pummeled through his veins, but Kass brushed past him first preventing a follow-up blow.
“Dad!” she shrieked.
Howard moaned, holding his face. Gage looked mortified.
“You better leave,” Billy snarled.
“I’m… sorry…so….sorry…” Gage stammered, reaching both hands down to help Howard up, but Kass angrily batted them away.
“Leave,” Billy said, fiercely.
“I’m sorry…Howard… I didn’t mean to hit you…” Gage said, balling his fists as he stood his ground with Billy. “But my business isn’t done here.”
“Yes it is,” Billy reached down and helped Howard to his feet and then, a stunned Kass. “I’m calling the police.”
“Good, so they can arrest you, Lawrence William Racket!” Gage spat in the snow.
Kass narrowed her eyes. Racket? As in the Racket crime family? As in the mafia of the South? She looked at Billy bewildered.
“That’s right,” Gage declared triumphantly. “I know who you are! I did my homework. Did you know you were dating a wanted man, Kass? You can do better than these criminals, Kass. Come back to me.”
Is he out of his mind? Kass whirled about while Billy helped her father to the back steps.
“Get outta here, Gage,” she snapped.
“Oh don’t baby me! You can’t be serious!” she made a disgusted face. “You hit my father!”
“I meant to hit Billy.”
“Yeah, you have a nasty habit of hitting my boyfriends. Go home, Gage…” she waved him off. “Go home to Natalya. Go home for your kid.”
“Go home before we press charges,” Billy called from the stairs.
“Press charges? Oh that’s rich!” Gage snorted.
“Gage…” she gritted her teeth, coming within inches of his face as she made fists at her side, her tone as icy as the frozen lake. “Go home.”
“Or what?” Gage jeered.
“Or I’ll kill you!” she said, darkly, smacking him hard across the face. “You hurt my dad…” she hit him again, this time, hard enough to draw blood.
Gage teetered, startled by the sudden impact.
“Kass, I’m…trying to protect you,” he wiped his lip.
“Are you deaf?” she screeched. “I never want to see you… ever again… leave me and my family… and my boyfriends… the hell…alone!”
Gage stood, staring at her, in shock.
“Leave, you son-of-a-bitch,” she shrieked. “Or so help me God, I will wring your neck faster than a spring chicken, Gage.”
She pivoted on her toe, and stomped toward a surprised Billy and Howard on the stairs.
“Remind me never to piss you off,” Billy said, quietly as he grabbed Howard’s hand, leaning into him for support.
Kass huffed, puffing a piece of hair off her forehead as she slid her arm around her father. With the help of Billy, she guided him into the house, abandoning a sad Gage to do the only thing he could do. Leave.
Kass and Billy helped Howard to the couch in the living room. He groaned as he sank into the red and gold couch cushions, shading his eyes from the bright overhead light.
“Dad…” she cried, her tone softened. “Get the ice pack,” she ordered Billy as she plopped on the coffee table.
“Yeah,” Billy replied, shuffling to the kitchen and returning moments later with cold compress.
“Here Dad… take this… are you okay? Do you feel okay?”
“I’m fine…sweetheart… that Gage…” Howard sighed. “…he’s got a lot of anger issues.”
“I don’t care about Gage,” she said, through gritted teeth, her eyes welling with tears. “Daddy… he hurt you.”
“He needs help,” Howard winced as he laid the compress on his eye.
“Dad. Don’t worry about Gage. I got him to leave.”
“I’m worried about you, pumpkin.”
Kass squeezed her father’s hand, touched by the kindness of his words. She knew he meant in more ways than one. However, now was not the time to discuss matters.
“Just rest… Dad… okay?”
Author Note: This chapter has been sitting in queue for days, but I wanted to edit the lighting as I wasn’t happy with it. This was a crazy chapter to write, and a hard chapter to stage. I ended up having to change traits of my characters just to get them into fights with one another. I planned to have Gage and Billy fight, but after Howard and Gage got into a scuffle, Kass walked over and slapped Gage autonomously. It was perfect. Just what I needed. Now that you’re over the shock, like I am… haha… thanks for reading.