1.74 Wound (Kass) [TAT]

When her father’s health takes a turn for the better, Kassiopeia Fullbright decides it might be best to stay within reach of the miraculous healing waters of Hidden Springs. With the road trip she planned cut short, Kass devotes her time to living the life of an honest citizen. Unfortunately for her, she keeps crossing paths with old friends who live in the grey, and she’s not quite sure she wants to be there.

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.”

“She did?”

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.

“Kass… please…baby…”

“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. 

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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 Simuly 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]

1.36 Rock the Night Away (FRWL)

“I hope you’ll be comfortable,” Gage said as he walked inside the detached barn on Anita’s property. “This has a full kitchen and bathroom and comes fully equipped with heat. I stocked the fridge with some fruit juices and essentials.”

“You didn’t have to do that, Gage,” Kass said, the gratitude evident in her voice.

“Thank you, son,” Howard replied. “I think we’ll be comfortable here.”

“Yes, you’re welcome over in the mainhouse any time, but I thought just in case, I got you the eggs, bread, cereal, milk, cheese, lunch meats, and stuff in the fridge,” Gage explained. “Sorry I didn’t get around to decorating for Christmas out here.”

“That’s okay,” Kass shook her head. “This will be fine… So?” she slugged him in the arm. “You put cereal in the refrigerator?”

Gage flushed, and awkwardly opened the fridge door, and pulled out a box of Llama-O’s. “I guess I did,” he said sheepishly.

Kass laughed.

“But I got the 2% like you like,” he said. “And now the O’s are nice and cool.”

She smirked, running her finger across the small dining table. “Thanks. I guess.”

After showing Howard the downstairs bedroom and attached bathroom, Gage wandered up into the converted hay loft.

“Sorry, the people who lived here before…” he felt odd saying it that way, but he wasn’t sure how Kass would feel about his former female roommate and lover. “…seemed to really like cow print.”

“That’s okay,” Kass shrugged. “I’m used to sleeping in strange beds since I’ve been on the road. I don’t really care as long as the sheets are clean.”

He snapped his fingers. “Damn! I knew I forgot something.”

She slugged him in the arm again, and plopped on the edge of the twin bed.

“So how has all the journeying been?” he asked. “Last I heard you were in Mexsimco.”

“Yeah, I spent about six weeks there in a place called Desierto Rojo. We stayed with this awesome family at a place called Casa de la Esperanza.”

“House of Hope. Nice.”

“Yeah, the owners, Rosalie and Noel, let me tend bar in their attached restaurant and they took care of sups, Gage. I met my first vampire.”

“What? Really? That’s cool. Were you mesmerized?”

“Um…” she lifted her feet off the floor and wiggled them as she laughed. “…no, he was a little odd. I mean, he was a nice guy and all, but well… he had a sad story… his family didn’t really want him and kicked him out and he had brain damage or something.”

“Wow,” Gage plopped on the bed. “Sorry I asked.”

“No don’t be,” she turned toward him. “Miguel was nice, but no, I was not mesmerized by him.”

“Were there any other sups there?” he inqiured.

“Yeah, a few. A werewolf and a few witches,” she remarked. “They were all really nice. I don’t know why people are so afraid of them. Say! Weren’t you engaged to a sup?”

“Uh…” he averted his eyes. “Well… it didn’t work out, but yeah, she kinda was… well, she ran a commune here in Riverview, but um…she moved away…for the winter… went south.”

“Like a bird,” Kass stood up and twirled around with her arms waving free.

“I guess so,” he said.

She stopped spinning, and looked serious for a moment. “I’m sorry things didn’t work out for you.”

“Naw, it’s fine,” he shrugged. “We rushed things. And I didn’t really want to be engaged. It was an impulse.”

Her face darkened. “I know the feeling.”

“That’s right,” he stood up, a smile spreading across his face. “You dated someone too, didn’t you?”

“Yeah,” she said, shoving her hands in her leather jacket, and turning to look over the side of the loft. “We should go check on dad. Maybe the bed swallowed him.”

She started down the stairs, two at a time, and he followed suit, deciding not to pursue the “guy” thing. Maybe she’d tell him in time, but for now, he didn’t want to pressure her.

“Gage, this is gorgeous!” Kass exclaimed.

They had moved to the main house. Howard insisted on making dinner, and quickly busied himself in the kitchen. Gage brought Kass upstairs to see his art studio.

“Yeah, well, I’ve been working on it for awhile now,” he said, feeling self-conscious. “It’s not really done yet.”

“Really?” she lifted her hand as if about to touch the canvas and decided not to. “I think it’s amazing. You’ve really improved.”

“You think so?” he asked, hating the squeak in his tone.

“Yes,” she turned to face him, her brown eyes glittering.

He took a step toward her impulsively, immediately regretting his action as his heart began pounding so loudly he was afraid she would hear it.

“Thanks, Kass, that means a lot,” he said quietly.

“Yeah, it reminds me of the rolling hills in Appaloosa Plains,” she said, looking back to the canvas. “Dad and I stopped there on our drive up north. Actually that’s where I was when you called me the other day.”

“Oh really?”

“Yeah. It was really nice there. Dad spent time with my Nana Bea there.”

“Nana Bee?”

“Oh!” she laughed. “Yeah, sounds funny. I never met her, but that was dad’s adopted mom.”

“Your dad was adopted?”

“Yeah.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“Yeah, funny… I forgot about it until I saw him earlier this year.”

“So you enjoyed spending time with your dad?”

“Oh yeah, it’s been great. I’ve had fun visiting all these different places. We saw the Palm Canyon in Simizona and spent a little time in Alpine County and I saw the world’s largest ball of yarn in Winchester.”

“Really? How was that?”

“Weird… and everything in the town was strange… like even the food.”

“Stringy?”

She threw back her head and laughed, and he couldn’t help but join in. Her joy was contagious. Gage was proud of himself for his pun. She swung her arms as she tried to keep from doubling over in hysterics. Gage wanted to hold her hand so desperately. He could hardly contain his excitement… and his desire.

“Kass… I…” he trailed off, feeling shy all the sudden.

“Yeah I know,” she reached over and took his hand, almost as if she knew and his eyes widened. “I’ve missed…this…us… too.”

He could’ve melted into a puddle of happiness.

“Hey you two,” Howard called up the stairs. “Sounds like you’re having fun.”

“Yeah dad, we are,” Kass said, finally calming down.

“Too much fun to eat. I guess, I’ll have to eat all this pasta by myself,” he teased.

“Don’t you dare,” she started down the steps. “How soon is dinner?”

“Fifteen.”

“Perfect. I’ll go change.”

Gage smiled. He liked the interactions between the father and daughter. She clomped downstairs and side-hugged her dad and he kissed her head before she raced out to the barn. Gage watched until she disappeared into the guest quarters, and then longingly glanced after her snowy footprints. She seemed so happy, and he liked seeing her this way. Howard asked him for a strainer for the pasta and he had to refocus on the kitchen.

They settled around the dining table. Howard had made goopy carbonara with a creamy garlic sauce and fresh garden salad with a southwest ranch dressing. Gage helped himself to a huge pile of salad as Kass and her dad both went for full plates of pasta. Kass warned her dad in a loving way that he better eat his veggies. It was good for him, she said. Howard tiredly patted his daughter’s hand and said he would be fine. Gage never knew diced tomatoes and Romaine lettuce could taste so good. Howard was a whiz in the kitchen. Kass teased him a little for taking his sweet time eating the salad, but he didn’t mind. He was so happy she was here.

They talked for a long time about their travels and all the places they had visited. He talked about his job at The Octagon House, and the town, and getting to know his family members, and the library, and Constance a little. He tried not to talk about all the girls he had dated, but Kass deduced at least three. When she asked about Constance, he flushed, insisting they were only friends and then heading to the kitchen for a second helping of salad. 

“Save room for dessert,” Howard warned, having already finished his plate of pasta.

“What’s for dessert?” Kass asked, taking another delicate bite of her noodles.

“Your favorite,” Howard replied.

Gage and Kass shared a knowing look. “Double mint chocolate chip ice cream!”

“What? It’s your favorite too,” Howard said, a mischievous smile spreading across his face and he tapped his chin in mock thoughtfulness.

“Dad,” Kass rolled her eyes.

“Somehow I knew it was both of your favorites,” Howard teased.

“We stopped at EverFresh on the way into town,” Kass explained.

“For my birthday?” Gage said excitedly.

“Sure, but if you eat a third plate of salad you won’t be able to enjoy it and I’ll just have to have a double helping,” Kass smirked.

“You wouldn’t dare,” Gage quickly ran into the kitchen and shoved the remainder of his salad into a plastic bag. “I’m going to eat a small bowl first and then some pasta.”

They stayed up all night talking. At midnight, Kass leaped up onto a chair and started shouting, “Happy birthday!” as if it were the new year. Kass made him hot cocoa with all the works, including candy canes, and then they settled into the couch to watch his favorite Christmas movie, The Polar Express. It was the only movie they would play when he was in the hospital at Christmas time around eight years old, and he had practically memorized the film. He said it was one of the best Christmases he had when he was in between foster homes and now every year he watched it on his birthday, somehow reminded of the whimsy and magic of Christmas.

Howard came over to the main house to make pancakes and coffee and Gage and Kass were still awake, playing cards at the kitchen table. Kass insisted he was cheating, and she should have won the last two rounds, but Gage teased her and said she was just being a sore loser. It was like no time had passed at all. He couldn’t believe how easy things were. He was a little worried they were too easy, but he decided not to question it too much. They both crashed shortly after breakfast, and then Gage woke up at four o’clock to five missed calls. Apparently, Aiden Jones, his caterer for the evening party, had the flu bug and so did his wife, Hannah.

“Drats!” Gage exclaimed. “Now what am I going to do?”

“What?” Kass asked, rubbing her eyes sleepily as she pattered into the kitchen. “How long was I out for?”

“Seven hours,” Howard replied, looking up from his copy of the Riverview Register newspaper. “Was the couch comfy, sweetie?”

“Actually,” she yawned. “It was. What’s wrong, Gage?”

“I lost my caterer for tonight.”

“Hmm…” Kass slid into a chair at the table, reaching over and stealing the paper from her father. “I happen to know someone who works wonders with food.”

“Say!” Howard exclaimed, snapping his fingers.  “What kind of food do you need?”

“Can you work wonders in about three hours?” Gage winced. “I need the food for tonight’s party at my work and I’m dead in the water without Aiden and Hannah.”

When Gage walked into the Octagon House at a quarter after seven, Howard had set up a sugar cookie table for the kids to decorate their own cookies, a hot chocolate bar, fresh fruit platters, and a chocolate fountain in the main hallway. Kass had run to the store and picked up all sorts of flavored whipped creams and managed to cut out exactly sixty-five paper snowflakes to decorate the table and the stage where Jon Lessen’s band was setting up.

“You are a life saver,” Gage shook Howard’s hand.

“It was my pleasure,” Howard replied. “Now I’ll make myself scarce.”

“Absolutely not,” Gage lightly shoved the man. “Go enjoy the party. Please.” He glanced over his shoulder, looking for Kass, and saw her waiting by the punch table. “Thank you,” he mouthed.

She smiled and waved. “You’re welcome.”

“Hey stranger,” a familiar voice said.

Gage turned around and saw Constance as she emerged from the crowd. He set his hot chocolate on the table and gave her a quick hug. She looked beautiful in an off-the-shoulder red tea-length dress and sparkly silver jacket.

“I met Kass,” she took a sip of her cocoa, and wiped her lip. “She seems lovely.”

He glanced over at the redhead who was bouncing around talking to all sorts of people. Her bubbly laughter warmed his heart, and she too, looked radiant in her fitted green blouse, silver belt, and black skirt, her long red hair curling around her mid-back. He smiled. He always liked it when Kass wore her hair loose. Constance slid to the side of the table, and picked up a cookie.

“Happy birthday,” she said sweetly, reaching into her bag and pulling out a small gift.

“Oh you didn’t have to get me anything,” he shrugged. “Christmas is enough.”

“I wanted to,” she shook her head, fluttering her lashes. “I saw this in a store, and I couldn’t help it… and I knew you would…well, open it.”

Gage tore off the paper excitedly and slipped off the ribbon. When he lifted the box lid, he caught his breath. She remembered.

“It’s an original,” she said. “I found it in our used book sale boxes, and I knew you liked the movie, so I figured you would like the book. All the illustrations are still really vibrant, and it’s autographed by the author and…” she flipped to the final page. “…and the artist.”

“Constance, thank you,” he breathed. “I just watched The Polar Express with Kass last night. This is so great of you… really… thanks so much.”

“You’re welcome,” she beamed with pride. “Now…go entertain your guests. It may be your birthday, but you’re still working, I think.”

“Yes, yes,” he smiled, leaving the box on the table’s edge. “Thanks for coming.”

“Gage, what are we doing out here?”

It was nearly midnight on Christmas Eve, and Gage had asked Kass to meet him in front of the house. She had been sleeping, but she begrudgingly got re-dressed and met him in the snow as he asked.

“Please, stay… please?” he begged, and didn’t even care that he was doing so.

“Only because it’s still your birthday,” she sighed. “Did you see my gift?”

“On the dining table?” his eyes lit up. “Yes. I loved it. I’ve been needing a new watch.”

“I hoped you’d like it,” she yawned. “I have a Christmas gift for you too.”

“You didn’t have to get me both.”

“Uh uh… nope… I did. Because I’m a Simcember baby and I hate it when people combine birthday and Christmas gifts…” she yawned and stretched some more. “Gage, I’m really tired. Can we go inside?”

“Nope, not yet,” he grinned.

“Why? What are we doing?” she whined slightly.

“Just wait…” he held out his hand. “See… I’m wearing the watch. I like the twelve different color garnets in here for each hour. It’s very colorful.”

“But it’s not very masculine,” she frowned. “I’m sorry. I just realized that now.”

“Don’t worry about it,” he shook his head. “Okay, tell me the time.”

“Eleven-fifty-nine…”

“And?”

“And…forty-five seconds, it looks like…”

“Okay…” he pulled his wrist back so he could look for himself, and then his smile broadened. “Guess what?”

“What?” she asked so she could see her breath.

“It’s Christmas!” he whispered excitedly, almost like a little kid.

She paused for a moment, contemplating, and then mimicked his smile. “You’re right. It is.”

“Merry Christmas, Kass,” he said.

“Merry Christmas, did you pull me out of bed so we could share this moment together?” she tilted her head and clucked her tongue.

“Maybe…” he laughed. “So where do you think Santa is?” he glanced up at the sky.

“Santa?” she made a face. “Seriously, Gage.”

“Yes, seriously,” he bobbed his head as it began to snow.

“White Christmas,” she exhaled happily. “It’s nice.”

“Yes it is,” he replied, reaching into his pocket and pulling out his cell phone. “Now the only thing to make this more perfect is some…music…” he pressed a few buttons on an app.

Jingle bell…jingle bell…jingle bell rock...” the app blasted loudly.

“Shh!” Kass covered the speaker and giggled. “That’ll wake your neighbors.”

Jingle bell swing… and jingle bell ring… 

“Oh who cares?” Gage threw his hands up in the air. “Dance with me.”

….snowing and blowing up bushels of fun… 

“What?” she blinked at him as if she hadn’t heard him right.

Now the jingle hop has begun… 

“Dance with me, Kass,” he repeated, earnestly, shoving his phone back in his pocket but letting the device continue playing the music.

…Jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle bell rock…

“What here?” she protested. “What does that even mean? The jingle hop?”

…Jingle bells chime in jingle bell time…

“Sure, why not?” he lifted his hands and began swaying to the music. “It’s jingle bell time.”

She laughed. “Okay, I guess so.”

“It’ll be fun,” he smiled. “I promise.”

…What a bright time, it’s the right time
To rock the night away

Jingle bell time is a swell time
To go gliding in a one-horse sleigh… 

Previous Chapter: 1.35 It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas 

Next Chapter: Coming Soon

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 Simbruary.

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

 

1.33 The End of a Dream (FRWL)

Gage wandered the snow-covered streets of Riverview, wondering where his life took such a serious detour. Was it when I lost Jennifer? Was it when I slept with Natalya? Was it when I moved to Riverview? Was it when I had a one-night-stand with Lakshmi? When Soléi rejected my proposal?Or the bloodlust with Cerise?

Was it earlier? When I told Kass I loved her and she didn’t want me? Or when I got drunk on the beach that night with her and we swam in the ocean? Gage could still smell the spray of the sea salt, and see the moonlight flickering in her honey-brown eyes, and the flutter of her lashes as the incoming tide splashed her angel-kissed shoulders. Gage rubbed the back of his head, feeling the scruffiness of hair forming, and wondered if he would ever meet someone as beautiful and intelligent as Kass. Sans the Bernish temper, he thought with a grin.

His brown boots crushed the bones of the earth beneath his feet, crunching the snow back into silent submission, occasionally snapping a stray twig or kicking a lone stone. With every step, he heaved as he climbed the winding sidewalk up Remington Point, feeling his soul sink further into despair. The wind seemed to propel the snowflakes away from his body, creating a wind tunnel, and he watched his hopes and dreams float away, always outside his grasp.

He sat at the top of the hill, perched on the wet wood seat of a hollowed out tree stump, a former shade of itself. Gage felt very much the same. I’ve changed. In the wee morning hours, he could see the first hints of violet flicker on the horizon. It’s me. Not them. When are you going to stop blaming everyone else for your problems, Gage? he chided himself. Still as he watched the sky grow lighter and the sun stayed hidden behind clouds, he couldn’t help but feel despair.

Will anyone ever love me? 

“Phooey!”

Gage had climbed down the hill and wandered into the plaza. He had decided to go to work early and grab a shower when he passed Constance leaving the library.

“Phooey, isn’t that a little old-fashioned?” he teased

“Oh, hey Gage,” she sighed. “Um… yeah, I guess. I just… well, I locked my keys in my car, and aw…sugar!” she glanced down at her grey dress slacks. “I’m getting my pants all wet.”

“I could carry you,” he offered, somewhat seriously.

“No, no,” she shook her head and waved her hands. “That’s okay. I just need to call the Green Diamond Club. Hopefully they can…” she bit her nail almost absently. “…get here in time so I can open up the library. Otherwise, I’ll have to call Sheila…so…” she eyed him up and down. “…what are you doing here so early?”

“I was heading to work.”

“But the Octagon House doesn’t open until nine.”

“Yeah, well, I thought it best to shower there.”

Constance arched a brow. “Trouble brewing in paradise?”

“Yeah, you could say that,” he responded before thinking. “I mean… um… I…”

“It’s okay, Gage,” she said with a slight smile. “Everyone knows you’ve been living with Anita Errare, the famous artist’s wife.”

“But…but…” he blubbered, and balled his fists as he protested. “… she’s a widow. I wouldn’t live with another dude’s wife. That’s just wrong. I may not be great with women, but I know better than that.”

Constance laid a hand on his shoulder. “Trust me. I know what kind of guy you are. I know you wouldn’t do that.”

Gage sighed. “So um… I can hang out here…” he shoved his hands in his pockets. “…until your tow shows up.”

“Sure,” she shrugged. “If you aren’t too busy.”

“The shower can wait,” he said. “Besides, I couldn’t leave a lady in the cold all alone.”

Constance released a tinkle of a laugh. “That’s what I like about you, Gage. You’re such a gentleman even if you’re all over the place.”

“Hey!” he punched her arm in a friendly manner. “I’m just a guy trying to figure out what he wants. Do you know everything you want?”

Constance stopped, contemplating what he said, as she lifted her palm face up, and squinted to the sky.

“When I was a little girl, I wanted to go up there,” she began. “I thought wouldn’t it be amazing to reach the heavens? To see the stars in their natural habitat? To visit unknown worlds?”

He blinked, surprised by her whimsical answer.

“I studied astronomy as an undergrad actually,” she met his gaze, and then shifted her weight awkwardly. “But I realized I couldn’t ever get accepted into the space program because of…well…” she chuckled weakly and tweaked her glasses. “…these…well, my eyesight.”

“So I decided to follow my second passion… reading… and that’s when I got my masters in library sciences,” Constance explained. “And you know what? I’ve touched more stars and seen more worlds than I would have during a trip past our atmosphere…” she swept her arm across their view. “…could’ve ever given me. So I say… if what you want is always out there… then maybe start looking a little closer to home first. You might be pleasantly surprised.”

“You know,” Gage glanced up to the sky. “…you say some of the most poetic things sometimes, Constance.”

A hint of pink, matching her scarf, breached her cheeks.

“Are you happy, Gage?” she asked softly.

He heard no judgment or pity in her voice, just the kind of concern two friends shared.

“I have to think about that,” he replied honestly.

“Do that,” she urged, patting his shoulder, and walking past him to meet the tow truck driver at the curb.

“Constance?” he called after her.

Constance turned and he couldn’t see her eyes as her glasses had started to fog over, but a stray strand of sunlight managed to push through the clouds and graze the top of her chocolate brown hair. He caught his breath, surprised by the singular moment of beauty. I liked her once. He felt a smile spreading across his face.

“What?” she tilted her head to the side ever so slightly.

“Nothing,” he smirked, and then coughed as he shoved his hands hurriedly into his pockets. “Have a great day!”

Instead of showering at work, Gage decided to head to Anita’s house and face whatever consequences he needed. Anita was just stirring beneath the covers when he stepped into the bedroom. Her face was tired and her eyes filled with sadness.

“Come here, sí?” she requested, bidding him to come to the bed.

When he climbed into her arms, she squeezed tightly and let out a muffled cry He felt water pool on his head. She repeated “lo siento” over and over again, and finally wiped her tears from his head, letting out an embarrassed laugh, her cheeks bright red.

“I’m sorry,” she repeated again in Simlish.

“Look Anita, it’s okay. I forgive you,” he replied, squeezing her hand. “But I can’t keep doing this. I can’t argue with you until three in the morning about the other women who have been in my life, and I have never once thrown your relationships with other guys back in your face.”

“I know,” she looked down at her hands. “I have trust issues.”

Gage bit his tongue to keep from saying something he would regret. Instead, he patted her long black hair, and pulled her into his arms.

“I care about you, Anita, but you were right,” he admitted. “I don’t love you. It’s not fair to you to say that I do. But I…” he pulled back so she could see the earnestness in his face as she let out a sad little cry. “…think I could grow to love you… if you let me… if you trust me.”

She whimpered, and bit her lower lip as he continued.

“I’m not sure I know what love is,” he croaked the words out, feeling uncomfortable even as he said them, his chest tightening.  “I mean… I loved Jennifer… she was my foster mom… well, really the only mom I’ve ever known. And I loved…” he stopped as he wasn’t sure he had the courage to say the words aloud. “…love…” he shook his head.

I have to say it now or I never will. 

“…Kass…you were right about her. I have feelings for her. Deep feelings. The kind that don’t just go away overnight, and I think I’ve been trying to replace her or something, and it’s so not fair to all the women I’ve been with. Because she didn’t want me…” his throat caught.

“But Anita,” he leaned into her head, and smiled feeling the softness of her cheek against his own. “You’ve opened up my eyes to the possibility of love, and I know that… with time… we can make this relationship work, okay? If you’ll…” he hesitated, almost afraid to say the words aloud. “…accept me? All of me? My history?”

Anita let out a shuddering sob. He slid his fingers between hers.

“Anita, honey, will you start a future with me?” he asked, looking deeply into her eyes, the words so frail and his hopes so fragile.

“Gage, I don’t know,” she wailed. “There’s something I need to tell you.”

“Phillippe’s father is very sick,” she stated.

Gage felt the ice slowly creeping over his heart, and he knew that he wouldn’t have what he deeply desired. He could only imagine what came next, and he hated himself for selfishly wanting to keep Anita here in his arms.

“…and he…” she let out a cry, and cleared her throat to will herself forward in the conversation. “…he asked for me. He wants me to come to Emporadà.

Gage waited silently for her to continue.

She squeezed his hand. “Gage, he wants to make peace with me,” she said, the sadness and the excitement creeping into her tone. “He wants to make things right. He says he would like me to come so he can ask for my forgiveness in person.”

The tears were now freely flowing down her cheeks. “Gage, he does not have anyone to care for him. His oldest son…my former husband… is dead… and his wife, she has Parksimson’s disease. She shakes so badly she cannot give him his medication. And his other son… well, he is overseas in Shang Simla, and he has no interest in coming home and helping.”

“You need to go,” he said, his voice devoid of emotion.

“You could come with me, my Gage,” her eyes lit up. “You could come with me to Simspania. We could still be together.”

“Oh Anita…” he sighed. “I can’t. I’ve got another semester of school left, and all of college ahead of me. And the job… at the Octagon House.”

“Gage, we can get you enrolled in a school over there…”

“But I don’t even speak the language.”

“You can learn. And I can get you a job that pays ten times what you make at the Octagon House.”

“But my cousins and my aunt are here, and I’m just getting to know them. And I finally met my older brother and sister too.”

“Well,” she bit her lip. “You could spend the holidays here with them, and then meet me in Emporadà. Gage, you said you’d do whatever it takes to make us work.”

“I did,” he sighed, remembering his promise. “I…just… it’s all so sudden. And you can’t bring me to your former father-in-law’s house. What would they say?”

Anita looked crestfallen.

“I wouldn’t belong there, Anita,” he said quietly.

“You belong with me,” she whispered.

He held her hand, trying to squeeze all the care he could into her bloodstream. He hated feeling like his whole world was crumbling. He wanted to go with her. He wanted to make things work between them. But at the same time, he couldn’t go. Not until his heart was in the right place. Not until he was sure he loved her. If he stayed here, he may never know if he loved her, or have the chance. But if he went, he was sure he would struggle to adjust and he would feel forced to try and make things work. And then what if they didn’t? He hated being a pessimist.

“No, you don’t,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper. “I know that.”

She slipped off the bed and sashayed over to the nightstand, opening the top drawer. Returning to the bedside, she held out a card… the same card he had purchased for his best friend’s birthday. The same card that read… I love the sparkle in your eyes and the way your laugh lights up a room. I love the way your hair falls across your face and the way your forehead wrinkles when you’re thinking too hard. I love the way you hug me as if the world is ending every time without fail. I know I haven’t always been the kind of man you want in your life but I want you to know I will try my damndest to be worthy of being called your friend again because you are so important to me. I love you… and I will always. 

“You belong with her,” she shoved the card into his hands.

His eyes grew wide.

“Just tell her…” she sighed heavily. “Tell her how you feel.”

“I did and she picked someone else…so I’m over it,” he shrugged, trying not to feel.

“Gage, you wrote this last week… tell her…” she said earnestly, her eyes making contact with his. “…call her… invite her to Christmas.”

He looked at her, bewildered.

“I booked a flight,” she added, quietly. “I leave in the morning.”

“Anita..” he said, a hitch in his voice.

His hands were shaking as he realized what he was holding in his hands.

“Shh!” she lifted a finger to his lips, and tears sprouted at her eye corners. “I know. It’s okay. I know. I shouldn’t have pushed you or rushed you. I didn’t realize until I read that card… how much your heart wasn’t here…” she lifted her hand and placed it across his heart. “…it was there…” she pointed to the card with her other hand. “…with her…and you need to be true to your heart, Gage. We can’t fake the kind of love you write about in that card.”

He released a weary cry, and felt the tears moisten his lashes.

“Anita…” he said her name again, but he wasn’t sure what to say.

“Stay with me, today, okay? Please?” she asked. “I’d like one last day with you.”

Gage pulled out his phone and dialed, telling his coworkers he couldn’t come in today. Then they spent the rest of the day together, in each other’s arms, not saying much, watching television and sitting by the fire and eating meals in the bed. He knew he didn’t deserve this generous woman who was here sharing her home with him. He didn’t deserve her at all. She should be kicking him out and screaming at him and crying, but instead, she invited him to stay in the home while she was overseas, and he only agreed when she accepted his insistence to pay rent and utilities. She told him to stay as long as he needed, and to keep pursuing his art, and not give up. She told him he didn’t need to wait for her, and it was okay to move on. And she told him to call Kass and invite her to the house for Christmas, and to be honest with his feelings for her.

She may surprise you, Anita had said optimistically.

He could hope.

The following morning, they stood on the porch. Gage was almost afraid to touch her, worried he might feel something he shouldn’t, chicken out, and fly with her impulsively to Emporadà. Loving Anita would be so much easier than pursuing Kass. But he knew Anita would never let him come. Not after everything she said. Not after everything he admitted. The whole situation seemed surreal. He had only moved in with Anita a mere few weeks before, and now he was saying goodbye.

“Write me?” she asked, fluttering her eyelashes. “I promise. I won’t be jealous of another girl in your life.”

“Yes you will,” he teased. “But I will write.”

“You’re right. I probably will…” she reached up and touched his cheek. “You are a special man, Gage Briody.”

Anita grabbed him, pulling him into a spontaneous hug to hide the large amount of tears welling in her eyes.

“I’m so glad I met you,” she whispered.

“Me too,” he said as he squeezed tightly.

“Promise me, you will love that woman the way she deserves,” Anita said, her voice husky.

He blinked back the tears in surprise at her selfless words. I don’t deserve you, Anita, he crumpled against her chest.

“You know, you’re pretty special too, Anita Errare,” he replied as he couldn’t bring himself to say thank you in an adequate way.


Author Note: Thus ends the Anita and Gage arc, with another appearance by the lovely Constance, and the hope of potential future happiness. Still, I nearly cried when I finished this chapter because their relationship is sweet and unique. Different from the other ones Gage has had. I hope you enjoyed. I have a few more chapters and then I’ll be finishing out From Riverview, With Love.

Previous Chapter: 1.32 Trouble in Paradise 

Next Chapter: 1.34 Tis the Season

1.28 With Me (FRWL)

Gage felt like a new man.

He woke up every day with a spring in his step and a smile on his face. He didn’t have to skip breakfast because he was sleeping more deeply and able to get up earlier in the morning. He even made bacon and eggs for his aunt Missy, much to her surprise. He whistled and sang in the shower, much to his cousin, Rhoda’s annoyance since she worked nights. He couldn’t help it. He was happy. He tried to make things up to her by picking up her favorite cookies at the supermarket.

Gage stopped by the library and paid Constance back, even if she hadn’t been expecting it. He also arranged for a piece of artwork to be on loan to the Wright Reading Room from the Octagon House. Anita didn’t like coffee so he often walked to the local coffee cart by himself in the mornings, and was surprised to see Constance there. She confessed she was addicted to their maple pancake bites, and it was the only place in town to get Oolong tea from Simina. Some mornings, Gage would leave extra early and pick up Constance’s order for her, delivering it to the library because she fell asleep at work again. Then he’d check out a copy of the latest weekly At-Home Artist magazine for himself and a romance paperback for Anita because she read books in a day.

Gage stopped blowing off classes and actually started doing his homework. He contacted the professors for the three online and one in-person class he was taking, and requested extra credit to make up for late assignments. Only one didn’t grant him an extension, his art history teacher. Anita was a lifesaver. With her knowledge and firsthand experience in the Sim Union, she was a valuable asset and helped him study every day after work until he felt confident he could pass his final exams with flying colors.

He drove Ruby back and forth to see his cousin, Sam in the City when her car broke down, and he and Anita even helped babysit her little brother, Skip so she could take her online exams for the semester from Sam’s apartment where it was quiet, unlike her own house in Riverview.

He even improved at work, securing three partnerships with artists in the state of Illinoisim, one for a lecture, another for a workshop, and another for a long-term class, and all to display their artwork exclusively at The Octagon House.

His aunt had noticed something different about him, and patted him on the cheek this morning, saying she was excited he found a special individual. Sam noticed, and congratulated him, saying he was happy Gage was able to move on from Soléi, and he invited Gage and Anita to join him and Ruby to ice skating the day after Thanksgiving in Simcago.

That reminded Gage to check in with his ex-girlfriend, and he learned she moved to Simizona to set up a winter camp for the Nativians and supernaturals. They Sim-yped and she wished him well in his life, and said she had begun a relationship with Damon, and told him he was welcome to visit the Cherry Moon Collective anytime. He also called Heather to apologize to her for his atrocious behavior, but she didn’t pick up her phone. Lé told him Heather had parted ways with the Collective and was seeking out work up north in Simnadia.

Gage tried to contact Lakshmi at Simcago Sensations, but she was out on a story. He also bopped around on the Internet trying to find information about Natalya but couldn’t seem to find her. Perhaps she had returned to her real name. He stopped by Cerise’s penthouse, and brought her a 12-pack of plasma fruit juice. He found her lounging, and she told him she hadn’t been into work because she had been feeling under the weather. She was grateful for the plasma packs, and accepted his apology almost immediately saying there was nothing to forgive as they were two consenting adults.

The day before Thanksgiving, Gage decided to take Anita on their first real date. He figured they should go out somewhere before double dating with Sam and Ruby. Anita had helped him at work and with his schoolwork, but short of the picnics in the office, they hadn’t really been out.

Anita picked the place – The Watering Hole. It was a less than reputable bar in town, according to Sam, but the place had really great deep-fried pizza pockets, and Ruby said there was a decent DJ most nights, including her older brother, Al, but she wasn’t sure if he’d be working. The one good thing about the hole-in-the-wall joint was no paparazzi. When they arrived, Anita immediately said she got a good vibe, and headed straight for the dance floor. Gage went to order the deep-fried pizza pockets and was happy the price was dirt-cheap. He ordered an entire plateful.

“Dude, is that your old lady?” the bartender asked.

Gage glanced over at the dance floor where Anita was tearing up some moves, swinging her arms above her head and rocking her hips in rhythmic circles.

“You mean, my woman?” he corrected, and then beamed from ear-to-ear. “Yes, she’s my girlfriend.”

“She’s got mad skills,” the bartender remarked. “Say you look familiar.”

“I do?” Gage’s eyes grew wide as he he sneaked a bite of dripping hot cheese. “Mmm… these are delicious.”

“How do I know you?” the bartender inquired.

“I don’t know,” Gage shrugged. “I don’t know you, do I?”

“The name’s Zeke,” the guy said, offering his hand.

“Hi, Zeke, I’m…” Gage shook the man’s hand, and began introducing himself.

“Gage!?!?” he was cut off by the shrieking shrill voice of his cousin, Rhoda.

He turned and saw his angry cousin, hands perched on her hips, dressed in black mini skirt, silver studded belt, leather corset with black bands, silver buckles, and a collar around her neck, and not much else.

“Another girlfriend?” Zeke leaned over and whispered with a smirk.

“Uh… no….” Gage protested, waving his arms. “That’s my…”

“Don’t you say it!” Rhoda growled.

“…cousin…” he finished, dejected.

“Man,” Zeke chuckled, mostly to himself. “Two hot women in here… too bad one’s your cuz.”

Gage walked over to try and appease Rhoda.

“I can’t believe you’re here,” she exclaimed, angrily throwing her hands in the air.

“Um… it’s a free country,” he said, weakly. “What? Do you work here?”

“Oh gawd! Yes, damnit! Yes Gage I work here. You know my dirty secret. I work at the Watering Hole, and gawd! Why are you here?”

“Excuse me?”

“Yeah, you and my holier-than-thou bro wouldn’t be caught dead in a place like this.”

“Actually Sam recommended the deep fried pizza pockets…” Gage glanced over his cousin’s shoulder to the plate of his once piping-hot food.

“What the hell? Well, why are you here? What are you into? You better not be lookin’ for tail,” she said accusingly.

“Rhoda! I didn’t come here looking to take anyone home tonight. I brought a date,” he replied.

“A date?” Rhoda glared at him incredulously, and then her face relaxed.

Gage frowned. Why on Simterra is she so pissed? 

“Well, you cannot under any circumstances reveal that I work here,” Rhoda said harshly. “Or that you saw me here. Or I will wring your neck.”

“Okay… okay…” he threw up his hands. “Whatever you say. Your secret’s safe with me.”

Rhoda seemed confident that he was telling the truth, and started to walk away, sashaying her hips and accentuating an area he didn’t really want to see. She whipped around, glaring over her shoulder.

“Or that you saw me in this outfit, capisce?” Rhoda added. “Or you’re dead. I swear you’re dead.”

“Okay,” he said, trying not to laugh at his cousin’s bizarre insistence.

Gage joined Anita out on the dance floor.

“Who was that?” she asked, as he wrapped his arms around her hips and squeezed, happy to be back in her arms.

“My cousin… being really really weird… but oh… we didn’t see her tonight,” he replied.

“Okay…” she said, looking bewildered.

“Come on, I got us food,” he said, leading her back to the bar. “And drinks.”

After eating, the couple returned to the dance floor, and enjoyed a few more songs. Gage didn’t see Ruby’s brother, but the DJ present was halfway decent. Anita left to go “powder her nose” or whatever it was ladies did in the bathroom, and he was approached by the bartender. The guy had changed out of his work uniform and into something more casual.

“Zeke, right?” Gage said, shaking the guy’s hand before.

“I swear… that drama with your cuz earlier…” Zeke shook his head and clicked his tongue. “Rhoda has got a stick up her very sweet little ass.”

“Uh…” Gage didn’t know what to say, feeling uncomfortable talking about his relative in such a manner. “Did you need something?”

“I swear, I know you… and I realized why… your last name,” Zeke said, waving his hands in an animated way.

“My last name?” Gage frowned.

“Briody!” Zeke declared, excitedly.

“How do you know my last name?” Gage tilted his head.

“Your ID, you dork,” Zeke replied. “When you bought drinks. It’s my last name too!”

“What do you mean?” Gage said, eyeing Anita who had returned to the dance floor.

She gave him an odd look, but began dancing solo as he continued his conversation, turning his attention to Zeke.

“Briody! Gage Briody! Boy! I’m your big brother!” the man declared, the happiest look spreading across his face.

Gage did a double take, blinking rapidly. His brother? Zeke? Zeke Briody? He had an older brother? The news was overwhelming. He stared into the face of the bartender, and noticed a similarity in the nose and the eyes, even if the man had an ochre skin tone.

“Brother?” he said, aloud, hardly believing the words.

“Yeah, I was born three years before you to Brigit Briody…”

“Mom?” he said, startled.

Zeke was already swallowing him in a hug. “Yeah Brigit’s my mom. I haven’t seen the woman in almost eighteen years.”

“Do you… do you… know where she is?” Gage gasped.

“Nah… ” Zeke shook his head, but I know the stories our granny used to tell me… and that’s enough. Sounds like the woman didn’t really want to be a mom and couldn’t get enough of love.”

Gage chuckled weakly, rubbing the back of his head, feeling connected to his biological mother.

“So you and I share a mother,” he said, mostly for himself, and suddenly his eyes widened. “Who was your dad?”

“Don’t know. But I know your dad was some rich white professor dude who married another woman and broke our ma’s heart,” Zeke explained. “So Rhoda’s your cousin? Huh? But we’re not related…” he remarked with a grin. “…so it’s okay that I occasionally plug her?”

Gage turned a thousand shades of red. “Are you asking my permission?” he said, tersely.

Zeke threw back his head and howled with laughter. “You shoudda seen your face. Ha! Don’t worry… I’m not into your cuz… even if she’s got a nice ass.”

Gage’s face returned to a slight pink.

“Hey, I’m off shift, so I’ll let you get back to the little woman,” Zeke grinned over Gage’s shoulder, eyeing Anita as if she was a hamburger on a menu. “Unless of course, you’ll let me get in a dance first?”

Gage narrowed his eyes.

“Kidding! Kidding! Bro,” Zeke lifted his hands in mock defense. “Enjoy your evening. But hey man, here’s my digits,” he handed Gage a piece of torn napkin with a number scrawled across it. “And we should get together and share stories or somethin’. Not here though.”

“I’d like that,” Gage said genuinely.

“Then once you’re square with me, I’ll introduce you to your big sis,” Zeke smirked.

“What?” Gage’s eyes bulged again. “I have an older sis too?”

“Yeah, we shared a womb,” Zeke gave a deep-bellied laugh. “We’re twins.”

“Oh wow!” Gage exclaimed, as Zeke gave him a half-hug and slapped him on the back.

“Alright, alright, I’ll see you… later… bro,” Zeke said with a wave as he exited the bar.

“Who was that?” Anita asked as Gage returned to dance with his date. “I feel like I came out with you and you’re spending half the time with other people.”

“Anita, you’re not going to believe this!” Gage said excitedly. “That’s my brother?”

“What? Really? You found your bio brother? And he works here?”

“Yeah. I guess so.”

“Wow… that’s amazing.”

“Yeah, and he has a twin, which means I have a big sister too.”

“So do I.”

Gage looked down into Anita’s earnest roasted chestnut eyes, and smiled. “You constantly surprise me, my dear. You have a twin?”

“Yeah, her name is Carlotta. She’s been off in the Simultan desert though for years,” Anita explained. “She left when we were eighteen. And I haven’t really talked to her since. But enough about me…” she placed her hand on Gage’s chest, a gesture he found surprisingly comforting. “What’s he like, your brother?”

“He seems a little… uh… what’s the word? This is all so surreal,” Gage explained.

“Understandably so. You haven’t seen him since…” Anita asked.

“Well, uh…” he rubbed the back of his head. “Um… since I was a tot. I don’t really remember much of those years. He seems um… well, a little sex-crazed.”

Really, Gage? That’s all you can come up with? 

“Oh really?” Anita’s voice hitched.

“Yeah, he was making all sorts of crude comments about Rhoda, and he wanted to dance with you too,” Gage scowled. “But I told him you were with me.”

Anita’s face melted into the sweetest smile. She laid her head gently between his shoulder and collarbone, and leaned into his embrace.

With you… that sounds really nice,” she said, almost sounding as if she was about to cry.

“Hey, what’s wrong?” he asked. “I’m sorry if I was preoccupied during our date tonight.”

“Nothing’s wrong…you’re perfect,” she said hoarsely.

“What? No, I’m not. I don’t deserve such high praise,” Gage protested.

“Shush…” she said. “It’s been so long since I’ve felt safe and loved with a man… not even, Philippe in his later years.”

“Really?” he frowned.

“He was… a hasty choice on my part…” Anita confessed. “And the age difference… well, it caused problems, and all we really had left was the sex. But you… Gage… you’re different. I can tell. And I like this… I like us.”

“He hurt you?” Gage said, his cheek flinching.

Anita shook her head. “I don’t want to talk about it. Plus all couples hurt one another. It’s human nature. But it’s in the past. Let’s just… for tonight… let’s just dance.”

An hour later at closing time, Gage drove Anita back to her house. The night was cold, but the two lovebirds didn’t seem to mind, standing on the porch, protected from the first falling snow of the season. He could see his breath on the frosty air when he surfaced between kisses. She tasted like candied lipstick and peppermint. He never wanted to let go.

“Gage?” she asked, interrupting their flow.

“Hmm?” he said. “What, my angel?” he petted her hair.

“Stay tonight?”

Gage stared deeply into her eyes, and felt her words spark embers in his chest. He thought briefly about what he should do and what he wanted to do, and the two were conflicting. She looked so earnest and hesitant in her question, like a woman who had been hurt before, and he found he couldn’t say no.

“You’re with me?” she asked, almost as if she didn’t trust reality.

“I’m with you,” he replied, lifting her into his arms. “And I’ll stay.”

 


Author Note: So Gage finds another sibling. Zeke Briody and his sister, Zia were first mentioned in my spin-off (that never happened) So This is Love? Zeke and Zia are the son and daughter of Brigit Briody and Corban Daniels, and are the older half-siblings of Gage. I didn’t intend to write about Zeke when I started this chapter, but you know the Sims. Always unpredictable. The guy showed up looking surprisingly like Gage and I went for it. So many interesting things happened. Rhoda argued with Gage. Zeke hit on Rhoda, and Anita. Both ladies rejected him, of course. This was a fun moment for me in game, and a great way to add some family connections. Hope you enjoyed.

Previous Chapter: 1.27 Bold Proposition 

Next Chapter: 1.29 Eyes 

1.27 Bold Proposition (FRWL)

Gage decided to stay until morning. It was the least he could do. Nalea lay half-naked curled up beneath his jacket when he awoke around seven-forty-five. Smiling, he patted her blonde hair and gently slid from the couch. It hadn’t been the most comfortable sleeping arrangement. Slipping downstairs to the supermarket, he headed first for the coffee stand, ordering a latte for himself, and a hot chocolate with extra whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles. Then he wandered to the bakery and plucked some fresh chocolate croissants from the shelf with the tongs. He stopped in the produce department and picked out some sweet-smelling apples, followed by a bunch of bananas to keep his options open. Finally, he stopped in the florist, and hummed and hawed over the type of flowers to buy.

“Gage?”

He turned, noticing Constance browsing through the flower department.

“Uh hi…” he said, tightening his grip on his hand-held basket.

“You’re here early,” she remarked, lifting a bouquet of white roses to her nose.

“Yeah, just gathering items for breakfast,” Gage replied, stretching his arm awkwardly as he dropped a package of candy into his basket.

“You eat chocolate-covered pineapple bites for breakfast?” she quirked a brow, leaning forward to inspect the package. “I should come over for breakfast some time. Must be gourmet at your house… candies from the floral department.”

“I’d like that,” he squeaked, a little too eagerly. “Uh… I’m not getting flowers…no flowers here… no sirree…” he quickly changed the subject. “What are you doing here?”

“Flowers…” she smirked. “… for Senior’s Day… at the library,” she casually knocking a package of the chocolate-covered pineapple bites into her own basket. “…since you suggested it…” she smiled coyly, turning away as she placed a few bouquets of purple delphiniums on her arm. “And,” she turned around. “…I never said anything about you buying flowers, but since you’re acting like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar…” she leaned in and straightened his collar. “…I’d recommend the white roses.”

Gage was too stunned to reply as she sauntered off into the store with a slight wave of her hand. His face relaxed into a smile. Constance Shelley was a constant surprise to him.

“I’ll take these,” he motioned to the florist.

Sauntering back upstairs, he found Nalea had already stirred from her sleep and was frantically trying to replace the buttons on her blouse.

“I have a client coming in a half hour,” she said, evidently freaked out when she saw his face. “I can’t believe we did that… I did that last night.”

He frowned, feeling defeated before he even began. “I brought breakfast.”

“And roses. How sweet!” Nalea remarked hopping across the floor with one shoe on as she looked for her other shoe. “You didn’t have to.”

“I wanted to,” he said.

“But um… Gage… uh…” she wasn’t even looking at his face, and she had hardly glanced at the breakfast spread he had brought as she searched the couch for her missing shoe.

“It’s under the table,” he directed. “Look… if you have a client… I’ll get out of the way.”

“Yes…” she exclaimed, pulling her pump from its hiding spot. “I mean… no!” she looked up at him, flushed. “I mean… uh… yes… you should go… but no… I mean… I want to…”

“It’s okay. You can save the speech,” Gage waved his hands. “I already know.”

“What? I mean… you do?” Nalea said, bewildered.

“Yes, we had a fun date and all, but I can’t be your client anymore after last night. It wouldn’t be professional,” he offered. “And it was fun, but you only wanted fun, and nothing more. You’re not looking for a relationship,” he began to back away. “I get it. It’s cool.”

“Thanks,” she tilted her head. “You took the words right out of my mouth. I mean it wouldn’t be very professional of me to keep seeing you as a paying client. And um… well…” she turned to fix her stray hairs in the mirror hanging on the wall. “And I don’t know what got into me last night.”

“Say no more,” he said, opening his arms. “I was expecting this. And a relationship with strings isn’t what I’m looking for right now.”

“Really?” she puzzled over a rogue hair. “I mean, you wished for a family and a home of your own and to please a woman and…”

“I know what I wished for,” Gage laughed unnaturally. “Seriously, Nalea, I wasn’t expecting to have it overnight or with you.”

“Oh!” she said, sounding almost disappointed, as she stopped preening. Turning about, she looked him in the eyes, “Well, if you want to have more fun sometime, call me, okay?”

“Sure thing,” he said, heading for the door.

“Oh and an apple!” she snagged one from his bag, and planted a light kiss on his cheek. “Thank you. I’m starved.”

With that, she whirled and walked toward the small bathroom of the establishment. Gage trudged down the back stairs, and felt the ache in his heart as he realized every word he had said was a lie. He swallowed hard, realizing Nalea wasn’t the one for him, and had gotten caught up in the irresistible charm last night. When he reached the street, the Simvember morning air hit his face like a cold slap. He debated tossing the entire bag, but then realized he spent good money on his items. Perhaps he could make someone else’s day. He pulled out his phone and dialed.

“Anita? Hey it’s Gage.”

One week later, Gage wandered into the live art room at the Octagon House. He smiled at each artist as he passed by, taking a moment to stop and ponder at each easel. Jon Lessen, the Monday afternoon figures instructor, acknowledged him with a nod as he continued to make the rounds and give pointers to each of the painters. Today the subject of their paintings was two female models in swimsuits. One was Hannah Jones, a journalist for the Riverview Register, dressed in a high cut pink floral one-piece, and the other, to his pleasant surprise was Anita Errare. It was hard not to notice the woman dressed in a hot pink string bikini.

“Ain’t she smokin’?” Buzz Rhodes, an attendee whispered.

“Which one?” Gage whispered back with a smile.

“We were short a model today,” Jon informed him. “So Anita filled in. Hannah helped her get settled.”

“Thank you, Hannah Jones,” slipped out of his mouth before he could stop it.

The woman glanced over at him and grinned. Hannah had apparently modeled in college in several athletic magazines, and now did a gig or two for fun. This week, according to Buzz, she was writing an article on the Octagon House’ newest patron… Anita Errare.

Of course she is. Gage sighed. Modeling for the community art class together was the perfect opportunity to pump the heiress for information. It was hard not to make the golden-skinned Anita the center of attention. He just hoped the article would be flattering. Several tabloids from Simcago and magazines had been hounding Ms. Errare, including Simcago Sensations, the same magazine Lakshmi worked for, and Gage had hoped his former one-night-stand wouldn’t be doing the article. He knew because he had been keeping the young widow company for the past week.

Last Monday, he had called Anita and shared breakfast with her after Nalea blew him off for a client. Anita had found the breakfast picnic in the park to be “a thoughtful idea.” Perhaps his night with Nalea hadn’t been a complete waste. He seemed to have picked up some pointers. Before meeting Anita at the Lost Willow, more secluded than the other town parks, he had stopped by the library and asked Lilith to pass along the roses to Constance… anonymously, of course. The sixteen-year-old volunteer at circulation practically swooned, but she promised to keep his secret. Gage felt better about giving flowers to Constance since she had been admiring them after all, and had suggested the flowers to him.

His breakfast date with Anita turned into several hours of pleasant conversation and getting to know one another. They stopped into Divisadero Budget Books to warm up, and Anita popped back to the powder room, which was when he received a text from Constance.

C: Thanks. Is this to pay me back for the socks? Because I think that’s overkill. 

G: What are you talking about? 

C: The roses… they’re lovely. You shouldn’t have bought me flowers.

G: Lovely flowers for a lovely librarian. How did you know they were from me? 

C: I was with you when you picked them out. 

She signed her text message with a wide-mouthed smile. He was too predictable, he assumed. That’s when Anita resurfaced from the bathroom, and they began browsing through books together as she attempted to locate a text on Libra era Simtalian artists. Tuesday, Anita had surfaced at his workplace and asked if she could help with a project. Any project, she said, as long as she was out of her house. He plugged her in with the evening pottery class, and popped by a few times in the hour to poke his head in the door and see how she was doing when she wasn’t looking.

Thursday, Anita announced she wanted to financially support the Octagon House, specifically by adding a new wing, dedicated to some pieces of her late husband’s artwork.

Friday, they talked with the lawyers over lunch. Gage felt like Billy really should be present for the discussion, but his boss said he completely trusted his judgment and approved what he needed to from a distance.

This morning, Gage and Anita went over the official paperwork in his office, and after an hour of trying to… and failing to decipher the legal jargon… and laughing a little in the process… he sent out for lunch from Little Coriscan Bistro, gourmet applewood smoked bacon and avocado hamburgers with a special pineapple barbecue sauce. He had discovered Anita liked pineapple on the morning of their first breakfast together… chocolate covered pineapple bites had been a good choice after all. He had been glad someone enjoyed them, still feeling the slight sting from Nalea’s casual reaction to their night together.

The sweet potato fries in a honey Parmesan glaze, arugula salad with toasted walnuts, and chocolate fudge cake with a raspberry cream-cheese frosting had been enough to put the proverbial icing on the cake of a long fruitful partnership for the Octagon House. He was taking his boss’s advice quite literally with the wining and dining, even if it was just at the office.

“Hey! You! Boss man?”

Gage returned planet-side as the day-time security guard, Joab Lankste, attempted to gain his attention. The man had already changed out of his uniform into a comfortable pullover, white pinstripe button-down, and jeans.

“Yes?”

“I was going to take this class but looks like I’m too late,” Joab remarked. “And the little old lady will have my head if I’m not home for dinner so take my spot.”

“Uh… what?”

“Trust me, buddy. I’m doing you a favor,” Joab grinned as he walked from the room. “Rashid is already in punching numbers in the clock. You’ll do great, boss man.”

“Tell Rebecca I said hi,” was all Gage could think to say in response.

Jon walked over and set up a canvas on his easel, claiming Joab already paid for the session so Gage could hop right in and paint since he qualified for the employee discount. Gage tried to protest, but Jon insisted saying there were to be no wasted canvases. He rolled up his sleeves, deciding he might as well try.

Fifty-five minutes later, the other classmates packed in their supplies for the night and filed out one by one for the night. Hannah helped Anita to the ladies locker room to shower and change while Gage stayed and chatted with Jon for a few minutes. After everyone was gone, Gage returned to the canvas, adding color with precision brushstrokes. He hadn’t wanted to show off while the other classmates were there.

“Wow, I’m flattered,” a voice came from behind him.

Gage jumped, turning to see Anita wrapped in nothing but a white towel. She must have just emerged from the showers.

“Uh hi…” he said.

Anita leaned toward the canvas, the finished portrait of herself, with a discerning eye. “I like how you captured the still portrait of me, but there’s movement and life behind me with the yellow taxi cab and the fall trees. It’s a neat approach.”

“Thanks,” he started putting away his art supplies. “It was the best I could come up with in the short amount of time.”

“Gage,” she breathed his name. “Your work is brilliant. Joab showed me a few of your paintings in the back. You’ve been working in a storage closet?”

He blushed. “I… well… I don’t typically join classes like these… and it’s actually got decent lighting in there.”

“No, no,” she shook her head. “That simply won’t do. We’ll have to make sure that the new wing has a space for employee artists.”

“That really isn’t necessary,” he replied.

“But I want to… I want to invest in the arts here. I want to invest in you… Gage… you are… look at what you did in under two hours. It is simply stunning. I love how you captured me,” she praised. “You are bold in your brushstrokes and your technique.”

“Thank you,” he managed, his voice croaking as he moved to adjust the canvas.

He wasn’t sure how he felt about her praise. He hadn’t thought of himself as a brilliant artist, especially in the eyes of the widow of the late and great Philippe Errare.

Anita tapped her foot impatiently. “What I cannot fathom is why you are not bold with me.”

“Wha…”

Anita cut off his response by pressing her lips deeply into his own, and for a moment, he forgot everything else in the world. This wealthy, accomplished, well-traveled, engaging, and beautiful young woman showed interest in him – a lowly struggling artist and assistant manager of a gallery and museum in a po-dunk country town.

Gage threw his hands up as she wrapped her arms tightly around him in embrace, almost uncertain as to why he did so, but then his fingers found her face, and caressed her cheeks. Anita sighed happily into his mouth, continuing to massage his lips with her own. He was in heaven, and he had no idea how he got there.

He was almost disappointed when she removed her lips.

“Gage Briody,” she said in a matter-of-fact way. “I have decided we should date.”

“Okay,” he said, grinning lazily.

“That’s all you have to say?” she seemed almost surprised.

“Well, I’m not one to turn down the bold propositions of a beautiful accomplished woman,” he replied, a teasing edge to his voice.

“I am serious, Gage,” she narrowed her eyes. “You and I will date. I have wondered why you have not kissed me before now.”

“I was trying to… uh… respect you… I mean… I didn’t…” he stammered. “…want to presume things….and all… you know… and I wanted to… um… be… your… friend. I didn’t think…”

“No you didn’t. And I have to decide if I’ll forgive you for that,” she said seriously.

“Well, I think you did…” he let out a weak chuckle. “…with that kiss.” he leaned in and nuzzled her cheek. “I would be happy to date you, Anita Errare, if it is what you want. Now why don’t you go change so I can take you to a proper dinner.”

Previous Post: Love Lessons (NSFW) 

Next Chapter: 1.28 With Me

1.24 All Wishes Final (FRWL)

Gage knew something had to change. He sensed it that night with Constance. She had driven him back to Cerise’s apartment, and insisted on coming up with him. Cerise was “entertaining” again, and surprised by the intrusion, but she gave him back the clothes and wallet, and tried to kiss his cheek. Gage flinched, rejecting her advances. It didn’t feel right. Then Constance glanced about and gave the woman a piece of her mind, much to Gage’s horror and amazement. She marched back out of the apartment and into the elevator, glancing back at him in an insistent “are you coming?” look of annoyance. Gage moved to follow and Cerise laughed lightly.

That must be Kass. I can see why you like her.” 

He waited to chew out Constance until they were in the car, but decided to let the subject drop since she was driving him home to Riverview. Though he planned to toughen it up and act sullen, he opened up to the woman over burgers and fries and chocolate malts. He shared with her some of his childhood nightmares and his adult dreams, and he revealed the woman of his heart, a woman named Kassiopeia Fullbright. A woman who had rejected him and chosen someone else.

He couldn’t believe he spilled his guts to a practical stranger. He barely knew Constance, but she made him feel comfortable. She shared some of her own stories, a man whom she loved in college. A man she thought would fix everything and be everything for her. A man who had broken her heart. She talked about how she went on a similar quest to find herself after college, and ended up moving around from man to man for awhile. He had a hard time believing prim, proper, modest, sweet Constance could have such a past, but she laughed, waving her fry dripping with ketchup and said she was one in the same.

What he wasn’t sure he wanted to hear was was her insistence that this kind of love, if it was love at all, more like lust, she said, wasn’t fulfilling or lasting. Part of him knew this, but he didn’t want to believe it. He wanted to go on doing whatever he could to forget the horrible aching hole in his heart. The sex numbed the pain, and that was the only thing he wasn’t ready to admit aloud. She nodded, as if she understood his silence.

Constance went up to the counter and brought back sprinkles doughnuts – chocolate with pink sprinkles and strawberry glaze for her, and red velvet with blue sprinkles and vanilla glaze for him. She told him these were the best doughnuts in the state, and she had bribed the secret ingredient in the dough out of the owner years ago, but she had never told anyone. And then, as if she knew what he was thinking,  she held up the doughnut and looked through the center and said, “Sex won’t fill the things that are missing.”

His lips parted in shock. She took a bite of the doughnut and shrugged.

It’s sugary goodness at best. Here for a moment,” she swallowed. “And gone the next…” 

She wiped her mouth with a napkin from the dispenser.

Delicious, but never filling.” 

He knew the truth. He didn’t want to admit it. Constance recommended he seek counseling. She said it worked wonders for her. He wasn’t sure. He called around a few places, but no place was accepting new patients or the pay was too steep for a visit. Plus he didn’t have insurance yet. Billy, his boss at the Octagon House, hadn’t filled out the paperwork yet when he went flitting off to Lucky Palms and then up to Simnadia.

Dejected, he wandered around Riverview after work a few nights, mulling over his options. He could take out a loan, but a bank probably wouldn’t give him one with little to no credit. He passed by the Cannery and saw an advertisement for the “Love Doctor.” Upon closer inspection, he saw the words, “First time visit free. Visits following § 35.”

Thirty-five Simos!? He could muster up thirty-five Simoleons. He continued to read about the benefits of seeing the Love Doctor – how she counseled in matters of love and life and had decades of experience. It might be a carnival gimmick but he was willing to give it a try. He found an app for the office and scheduled an appointment – Tuesday after work.

The Love Doctor’s office was nothing like he expected – puzzle-piece carpet that reminded him of grape soda, Valensim hearts hanging on the wall, mismatching curtains, and lavish mirrors. Her room was rented above the EverFresh Delights Supermarket, and he could smell cured meats from the deli through the thin floors and hear the shopping carts scrapping shelves and linoleum below. And the doctor herself looked no older than himself, dressed in classic genie attire, a peach tube top and mulberry gaucho pants and gold and peach trim, something you’d expect out of One Thousand and One Nights in the Simarabian desert.

“Is this for real?” he asked, incredulously.

“Come in, please,” she gestured to a pink- and-heart patterned table and butterfly patterned chairs in the back.

“You’re the Love Doctor?” he narrowed his eyes. “With decades of experience?”

“I’m half-Orbix,” she replied, and when he looked confused, she added, “You know, the blue-skinned alien race from space?”

He stared straight ahead.

“We’re the ones helping you with the Xenosi,” she said as if he was dumb.

“Riiiight…”

“We live longer than the average Sim. I’m actually seventy-five years old.”

“No way!”

“Can I get you some water?”

“No thanks. Look, is this really free?”

She frowned. “Absolutely. I am here to serve.”

“Um… well, okay… how does this work?”

“Well, usually a client tells me a problem and I tell them how to fix it, if I can.”

“Do you grant a wish?” he snickered, noting the fortune 8 ball on the table.

She stared off at a blank space on the wall, and sighed.

“If that is your wish…”

“Wait… uh… no… I mean, I only get three, right? If I remember correctly from my mythology,” Gage stammered, feeling awkward.

“I’m half sim’jinn,” she replied. “If I was full, I could grant more than three, but I may only grant three at a time to a single individual, and only if it relates to the problem at hand. I am here to serve.”

Gage frowned. “Yeah you said that,” he twiddled his thumbs. “You really are a sim’jinn? A genie?”

“Yes.”

“And a counselor?”

“Of sorts.”

“Well, I guess, here goes…” he sighed. “I’m pretty much willing to try anything.”

Gage began talking about his rough childhood and how he wanted to have a family more than anything, and that he liked women. He chuckled. A lot. He liked women a lot. He enjoyed their company and their looks and their attention.

“And their sexual desire for you,” the woman sim’jinn interrupted him.

He blinked rapidly. “Uhhhhh…”

“Yes I can tell a man who has a strong sexual prowess and a desire to be the king of the jungle…” she winked, and tilted her head, offering a silly little laugh. “And the bedroom.”

What kind of counselor is this? Well, she is free. 

“Do you have a license to practice?” he interjected.

She frowned. “No, well… I should qualify that. I’m not a licensed psychologist or therapist but among my people, we are known to be good listeners and we grow to be quite wise in our old age. I am bound by the codes of my people, the sim’jinn – do no harm and such – but we are quite lax compared to your Simlish doctors and all. I can’t prescribe you pills and you don’t need to take everything I say seriously, but I listen. Most people want a fun little fortune told or a wish granted. You’re the first person to walk in here and tell me your life story.”

Gage felt the heat bloom on his cheeks. Constance had recommended counseling. This wasn’t what she had in mind. This wasn’t what he had in mind.

“Oh I see,” he managed to squeak out.

“It’s okay, Gage,” she reached across the table and took his hand. “I can tell you needed to say what you said and you needed someone to listen and care. I don’t really know you, but I’m glad you shared those things with me. You needed to be heard and accepted.”

He jerked his hand, feeling uncomfortable with the whole situation. “Um…okay… thanks I guess.”

She smiled broadly. “Anytime. You are welcome.”

“I don’t even know your name,” he said sheepishly.

“Nalea al Nazneen,” she replied. “That’s how I knew about the king of the jungle.”

“Wha…what? Why?” his eyes grew wide.

“My name means lioness,” she giggled.

“It’s…uh…um… it’s a pretty name,” was all he could think to say as he loosened his collar. “Could I get that water now?”

“Sure,” Nalea stood up and walked over to a mini refrigerator returning with a chilled water bottle. “You know I think Gage is a nice name too.”

Funny! That’s what Cerise had said. He gulped down the liquid as quickly as possible.

“So I don’t pay you, huh?” he remarked.

“Nah, this first session is free, though you’re welcome to come back for more,” Nalea smiled warmly. “In fact, I’d like that.”

She stretched out her hand.

“Are you going to read my palm?”

She laughed. “No, I’m not an enchantress…” she waited, and then spoke again, pointing. “Your water bottle? Are you finished? I was going to throw it away.”

“Oh of course,” he averted his eyes to avoid the surmounting discomfort. “So my wishes? I can wish for anything?”

“Within the realm of life and love, and that’s pretty much anything,” she replied, tossing the bottle into the trash.

“What if I change my mind?” he asked.

Returning to her seat, she pointed to the table. “No, all wishes are final. That’s the rule. I’m sorry. You have to keep what you ask for.”

Gage paused, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. He wasn’t sure this was remotely what he came for, but now that he had the attention of a sim’jinn, he couldn’t let it escape. He thought about what would best benefit him.

“I wish for…” the words sounded strange exiting his mouth, but Gage continued. “…”I wish to…to be irresistible.”

Nalea smiled, and bobbed her head. He waited. Nothing happened.

“What? No shimmering dust or magic music or instant feelings of relief or something?” he joked.

“No, it doesn’t work like that. Trust me. I’m logging your wish. You’ll receive the wish when you’re done telling me what you desire,” Nalea explained.

“Oh okay…” he closed his eyes, thinking hard.

He thought about the words of Constance, saying he couldn’t chase after empty things. Sex won’t fill the things that are missing. 

But perhaps finding the right woman and having her want me will help. And how will I know who she is? And if she wants me? He would have to be the best guy he could be and that would be enough, right? 

“I wish to know how to please a woman.”

Nalea bobbed her head again.

“And I wish…” Gage hesitated.

He had already used up two wishes. He couldn’t take them back. What would be the best wish? Think. Think.

Ah come on! You don’t even know if this will work.

But if it was a scam, shouldn’t I be paying or something?

Then again, maybe that’s how she hooks people. She brings them back again and again and they pay money after she’s hooked them the first time.

But she looks trustworthy enough.

Ish. Trustworthyish. 

Nalea cleared her throat, drawing him back to the present. He knew what he wanted.

“I wish to have a home of my own for my family,” he added.

Nalea stood up, walking over to Gage, and stretched out her hand. “It’s a pleasure doing business with you, Gage Briody.”

When he took her hand, he wasn’t sure if he had just been swindled or not, by this oddly beautiful and quirky sim’jinn  but he did feel hopeful for the first time in years.


Author Note: I hope you enjoyed Gage’s little side trip to the “Love Doctor.” FYI, the “fortune 8 ball” wasn’t a typo. It’s my Simworld version of a Magic 8 ball.

The Orbix first made an appearance in my Letters from Lizzie story. You can read more here.

In general,  the Orbix (plural species) are a service-oriented species.  They train their youth in battle tactics from birth, to serve and protect their society. While a female Orbit (singular individual)  can serve in the military, she cannot hold a high ranking position due to the patriarchal society.

The Orbix have been at war with the Xenosi for decades, and are helping the Sims prepare for encounters with the Xenosi through technology, training,  and knowledge.  Currently,  the Sim-Xenosi War and the Orbix-Xenosi War is a cold one,  but this wasn’t always the case.  You can read more here.

Sim’jinn or genies are descendants and hybrids of the Orbix. Unlike the other hybrids (i.e. werewolves, vampires,  etc), the sim’jinn are most often not recognized by their own parent race (the Orbix) or are second class citizens, especially female sim’jinn. This is because the Orbix view the sim’jinn as impure spirits, shades of their great race,  and at worst,  xenon (in their tongue,  this word means demon) in Sim form. The legend has it the Xenosi spliced DNA from an Orbit and a Simarabian Sim to create the sim’jinn.

Because the Orbix distrust and denounce sim’jinn (due to the origin of the sim’jinn species)  and treat them as second-class citizens, many Simterran governments and Sims themselves have adopted this view also.

Sim’jinn primarily live on Simterra and Simterran off-world colonies. Many travel and live alone as they aren’t widely accepted in society or are viewed as “carnival tricks” or “gimmick entertainers.” They are a small nomadic race – only a few hundred in total numbers. The sim’jinn often work in the service industry, using their abilities of their parent species to entertain, comfort,  or counsel.

Because of their disconnect from the Orbix, sim’jinn are often left to figure out their culture,  abilities,  and powers on their own (and their skills may not be as trusted, accepted,  understood,  or fine-tuned as a full- blooded Orbit). Also sim’jinn cannot change their appearance like the Orbix can. They cannot blend into society like their parent race and are targets for prejudice and discrimination.

Hope you enjoyed the chapter and worldbuilding.

 

Previous Chapter: 1.23 Read Like a Book 

Next Chapter: 1.24 Patroness of the Arts (coming soon)

1.23 Read Like a Book (FRWL)

He was dreaming… sweet dreams. Of a woman with red hair. Of a woman who loved him. Of a woman who made him feel good. Of a woman he always wanted…

…Kass.

“Hmm?” Cerise stirred beside him beneath snakeskin sheets.

“Kass,” he mumbled.

She felt good against his back, the softness of her white tee brushing his own. He could feel her exposed midriff, her skin cool and smooth next to his own back. He could feel her arms encircling him, and the scent of her cinnamon perfume like a spiced tea on a wintery morning. He could stir his fingers in the steamy liquid drops of her hair.

“Who’s Kass?” she asked, releasing her arms around his chest.

“I love you, Kass,” Gage murmured. “I…want…you…” her mumbled beneath the sheet. “Kass?”

“Whoa!” Cerise jerked back from his side, yanking the covers in the process.

Startled, he sat up, rubbing his eyes. “Good morning,” he said, tilting his head to the side and offering a sleepy half-smile.

“Who’s this Kass person?” Cerise asked sharply, her makeup still perfect from the night before.

“Um…” he rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. “I…”

“Are you into dudes?” she inquired, eyeing him closely.

“What?” he gasped. “No… Kass is a woman’s name. You didn’t know that?”

Not helping your case here, buddy. 

“You said you loved her,” Cerise repeated, sounding almost hurt.

He narrowed his eyes. “I said that?”

“Yeah,” she folded her arms across her chest, her braless breasts bouncing in the process.

Gage cleared his throat. “Uh….”

Cerise glared, waiting for an explanation.

“You love her. You want her. Present tense, Gage!” Cerise snipped.

“I…but Kass isn’t here, you are,” he insisted.

“Are you married?” she grunted.

“No, no, it’s nothing like that,” he waved his hands in protest.

“You’re engaged?” she guessed. “In a committed relationship? You don’t want to leave her. You were just looking for a one-night stand. She doesn’t please you anymore. You come looking for vamps like me. Cuz we’re all what… sex maniacs? Yada, yada, yada,” Cerise threw her hands up in the air. “Look, I’ve heard it all before.”

“But I’m not… I mean… Kass… that woman… she doesn’t mean anything to me,” he lied, feeling like he was rapidly losing ground and favor.

“Look it was fun and games, but I think you need to leave,” Cerise sighed dramatically. “I need my afternoon plasma coffee and you should go home… to that… Kass… whatever…” She shoved him off the bed, flouncing to the kitchen.

“But it’s not like that!” Gage exclaimed. “Honestly.”

Cerise pushed the button and her coffee machine roared to life. The liquid began brewing. Gage braced himself against the night stand, gritting his teeth as he stood up.

“Look, Cerise, I like you… and what we had last night was hot…” he began.

She clucked in a hen-like fashion, and wrapped her hands around her warm beverage, flicking the liquid with her tongue. Walking over to Gage, she wrapped her hand tightly around his forearm and pulled him with surprising force over to the elevator.

“Look,” she pushed him in. “I wasn’t looking for a wedding ring or a relationship or nothing. It was business. Nothing more. What happens in a vampire house stays in a vampire house.”

He wondered if she meant her apartment or the idea of vampire houses in general.

“It’s nothing personal. Besides my mistress will be along shortly for an inspection and I can’t have you here,” she remarked.

His eyes widened. She smirked, taking another sip of her coffee.

“It’s not like that,” she said, peeking over the edge of her coffee cup. “My mistress is my business employer and house manager…” she leaned into the elevator and pinched his cheek. “Ahh… but you thought… well, you dirty little Bene.”

Gage chuckled awkwardly and shifted his weight to one foot as he pressed the down button.

“Next time bring your friend or whatever… Kass…” Cerise called after him.

Gage couldn’t stop gaping until he reached the ground floor and wandered outside. What the hell? It was then he realized that he left his pants, shirt, jacket, and boots in Cerise’s apartment. He planned to go back up for them until he saw a long black limousine with red lights pull up next to the curb and a woman with greyish skin and a long black flowing dress with tails step out. He surmised that must be Cerise’s mistress. The woman darted her eyes, piercing him with a dark gaze as she smiled, revealing her sharp incisors. He gulped and took a step back. Probably best to get his clothes another time. 

Gage wandered in the low-lying fog for awhile. A few taxis passed by but wouldn’t pick him up due to his unusual attire.  He got more than one cat call from a woman on the street or passing car. Thankfully he had the sense to grab his phone before leaving Cerise’s, but now he was kicking himself for leaving his wallet and keys. The vampiress might still get in trouble, and he didn’t even have her phone number to call and pick up the items later.

He tried ringing his cousin, but Sam didn’t answer. Gage remembered he was out for the day at classes and then driving Ruby back to Riverview. He thought about calling Northwestern University but how would he explain the need to interrupt Sam in his classes. He somehow managed to get past the doorman at Sam’s apartment, but no one was home and he didn’t feel like explaining to anyone why he needed let in. He thought about calling his aunt or other cousin, but both of them would surely laugh at him, and he wasn’t ready for that.

I’m an idiot! 

The sun was starting to go down, and he was feeling the evening chill set in. He was getting plenty of stares from passerbyers.

“What? I’m decent,” he protested.

…except I’m without shoes, pants, a wallet, and keys… he gritted his teeth.

Could be worse, he reminded himself.

There was one time when a foster parent kicked him out with nothing but his undies. A homeless guy in the park had taken pity on him and given him his only spare pair of pants and a hoodie. Still he had wandered for hours without shoes in the cold, wet, miserable rain. Gage eyed the sky. At least it didn’t look like precipitation was coming, but the fog was nipping at his skin. He wondered if he should wander back to Cerise’s place, but he felt like a fool. He didn’t really want to see her again after she kicked him out in a humiliating fashion.

He wandered past a hot dog stand, and his stomach gurgled. The scent of fried meat almost made him feel nauseous, he was so hungry.

He wandered past the police station, and was tempted to file a “fake” report, but he really didn’t want to get in trouble with the fine men and women in blue.

He wandered past the hospital, and thought about checking himself in for the night. He could claim stomach pains or something, which wasn’t far from the truth.

He wandered past the public library, and thought about walking inside to get warm for a few minutes. They advertised open until 10p.m.

Then he had an idea. He picked up his phone and punched in a number.

Forty minutes later, Constance Shelley picked him up in her antique car. He was waiting at a subway station. Grateful he didn’t have to wait a minute longer, he slipped into her vehicle.

“I’m sure glad I remembered you’re in town for the Friends of the Library convention,” he remarked.

She handed him a bag of clothes, a hoodie, a pair of military fatigue paints, socks, and boots.

“What on Simterra were you doing wandering Devil’s Port dressed like that?” she asked.

Gage pulled the pants up on over his legs.

“I had to come up with the weirdest excuse to get into the building. I told the doorman I was delivering books from the library and he asked me if we made house calls now so I hope your cousin likes books about eighteenth century antiques because that’s all I had in my car,” she remarked, and he couldn’t tell if she was amused or annoyed.

“Thank you,” he said, yanking the hoodie over his head.

“And I had a hell of a time explaining to Ruby why I was at the apartment in the first place,” Constance wrinkled her nose as she put the car in drive. “She apparently thinks I’m someone named Kass.”

Gage made a face at the sound of that name. He was annoyed his thinking-aloud had gotten him into trouble today already. He didn’t want Kass to ruin things for him again.

“Thank you for coming to get me,” he rubbed the back of his head, already feeling warmed by the heater of Constance’s car.

He knew he was deflecting, but he didn’t care.

“I couldn’t find socks so I had to buy you some. You can pay me back,” she said.

“You didn’t ask her?” he raised an eyebrow.

“Look, I don’t know why you didn’t just go back and ask Ruby directly,” Constance said, pulling away from the curb. “Her name is Ruby, right?”

“Yeah, Ruby,” he shrugged. “Sam’s girlfriend.”

“I see,” Constance said. “And Kass is… your girlfriend?”

I wish. Kass wouldn’t kick him out of the apartment without his clothes in the morning, hungover and hurting. Gage crossed his arms over his chest, drawing his knees closer to his body as he nursed his ribs. He hoped Constance hadn’t seen the love bites on his neck or the scratch marks on his legs and arms.

“A friend,” he said, staring off out the window. “Nothing more.”

“Uh huh,” Constance replied as if she didn’t believe him. “And the woman who has your clothes?” she pulled up to a stop light, and glanced over in his direction. “It is a woman, right?”

I might as well admit it, he nodded affirmatively.

“I take it Lè and Heather didn’t work out,” she said.

He expected judgment in her tone, but he heard none. Only a statement. He cleared his throat.

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“You try and act all mysterious, Gage Briody, but I know you,” she replied, boldly.

He swallowed hard.

“You are chasing after women trying to find the dream…” she laid a hand on his knee as she maneuvered through traffic with her other hand on the wheel. “…that dream childhood you and I didn’t have. Trust me. I know. I lived it. But hopping in and out of bed with someone isn’t going to fix the fact that you had a shitty childhood and it isn’t going to get you that home and family you want and deserve.”

Gage’s jaw dropped open. It was as if Constance had peered into his soul and knew his innermost thoughts and feelings. How did she do that? He wasn’t sure if he should be scared, offended, angry, or impressed. He glanced over at her, watching her face for a hint of expression – something so he could interject something equally as worthy, but he couldn’t see anything. Nothing except a few more crease lines around her eyes than a twenty-something woman should have. Constance had just read him like a book.

“Listen, I’m starving, and I don’t exactly want to talk about my love life,” he said, curtly, deflecting once more. “And I’d buy you dinner as a thanks, but I don’t have my wallet, and that’s why I couldn’t get home in the first place.”

 

Constance immediately made a U-turn.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“I know a good little diner on the way out of town. I didn’t know where I was taking you, but I’m guessing you don’t want to go back to your cousin’s?” Constance said, more as a statement than a question.

He nodded.

“You said you were hungry,” she said, her voice climbing a few notches in pitch after he gave her a weird look.

“Yes, but I have no money,” he said, feeling incredibly stupid.

“Don’t worry about it,” she patted his knee in a sisterly way. “If I was running around in the streets of Simcago without my clothes and my wallet because some…” she glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. “…guy kept all my stuff, well, then I’ll know who to call next time.”

His face relaxed into a smile.

“Not sayin’ I’d ever be caught dead doing that,” she clarified.

“Of course,” he tried to keep his smile from expanding as she was glaring at him threateningly.

“And after we eat, I want to know all about this mystery woman,” she added.

So close! 

“And Kass.”

Gage’s smile turned to a frown.

“And then,” she declared resolutely. “We will go get your clothes.”

He couldn’t help but laugh in surprise.

“What witch keeps a man’s clothes?”  Constance shook her head, disapprovingly.

“Actually…” he tried not to smile, but the whole situation was amusing. “She’s a vampire.”

Previous Chapter: 1.22 Bloodplay 

Next Chapter: 1.24 All Wishes Final