A/N: If you read the half a chapter I published by accident, please read it again! That was very rough and not fit for human eyes! D:
I also have something a bit different planned for the next chapter. Mostly for the benefit of Deeds. :)
She had changed since I’d last laid eyes on her. She was taller, for one – almost as tall as me. Her hair was cropped short now, and she’d grown out her natural red. Her clothes were much more sensible, but still retained flashes of her old style. The unmistakeable scent of cigarettes clung to her like silk.
But there was one thing that had not changed about Kami Starr. She still made my pulse quicken and my palms sweat. As she walked through the door into my house, I couldn’t help but imagine tumbling into bed with her and wasting the night.
My evening with Susie seemed a lifetime away.
Before I could realign my thoughts from dirty to chaste, Kami hugged me. My breath caught in my throat as she pressed her body against mine, her arms winding tightly around me.
“I missed you, Lucas.”
Her breath ghosted against my neck and I shivered. Cautiously, I hugged her back, trying to think of everything and anything to stop myself getting an embarrassing issue.
James Frank. His name – his face – loomed up in my mind even as I felt Kami’s soft body against mine. Even as the word ‘Bridgeport’ flashed across my eyes.
If Kami had been able to find me this easily, surely the police wouldn’t be that far behind?
Well, that was one way to plunge myself into a bath of icy water. Metaphorically speaking.
“How did you find me?” I choked out, as she pulled back from the hug.
There was disappointment in her eyes.
“Is that all you have to say to me?” she asked softly. “After all this time?”
“No, but…” I shook my head and lowered my voice. “Kami, please. This is important.”
Kami didn’t meet my eyes. A flush had appeared on her cheeks.
“I’ve been travelling the bus routes out of Bridgeport,” she admitted, her tone sheepish. “Getting off at every stop and asking around town for someone matching your description. Riverview wasn’t very high on the list of likely places you’d be, but… some teenager said it sounded like I was looking for the crazy screaming guy on the hill… so I took my chances. And here you are.”
Crazy screaming guy. Was that what they were calling me in the town? My nightmares must have been more frequent and well, loud, than I had thought. I wondered how Jamie put up with me.
“Here I am,” I said, but my mouth felt dry.
Kami let out a short, bitter laugh.
“You must think I’m a stalker. Or desperate.”
Honestly? I didn’t know what to think.
Not sure what else to do, I made Kami sit down at the table and sat opposite her. I could feel the tension hanging in the air between us. I wasn’t sure what had happened, but time had taken from us the easy summer days when we could talk for hours.
Time had taken from us a lot of things.
“What happened to Mike?” I asked softly after a moment. “I thought you guys were going to get married.”
Kami crumbled in front of me. She gave a tremulous sigh and put her head in her arms.
“A lot of things happened with Mike. We just… it didn’t work out.” She sighed again. “I guess… we both grew up. Wanted different things.”
And this was exactly what I was afraid of a relationship. Falling head over heels in love and then wanting different things. It had ripped my parents apart at the seams.
I would rather be alone forever than turn into my father.
“Mike’s an ass,” I told her, after a moment of silence. “If he wanted things that didn’t involve you, he didn’t deserve you, Kami.”
A shaky smile formed on Kami’s lips.
“Thanks, Lucas. You always know just what to say.”
Every time she used my old name, my skin crawled. My stomach burned uncomfortably.
I had to say something.
“Look, I go by Gabriel now,” I blurted.
When Kami just stared at me, I continued, “Being here is a fresh start for me. Fresh start, new name.”
“Gabriel?” Kami repeated. “You mean that stupid nickname Mike and the guys gave you after they caught you in that fairy costume?”
I coloured. That hadn’t exactly been one of my finest moments.
But one of the kids in the home had just been diagnosed with leukaemia, and I’d wanted to make her smile. Even if that meant prancing around dressed as a fairy, drinking ‘rainbow juice’ out of plastic cups.
“Yes,” I said. “Gabriel. Or Gabe, if you prefer.”
“Okay, if that’s what you want…” She grinned suddenly. “I don’t know. I just pictured you with a more… manly name. Like Roger.”
“If I’m honest, I think Roger suits me even less than Gabriel does.”
“Well, Gabriel… do you think -”
She broke off, her expression abruptly sober.
“Do I think…?” I probed, gently.
“Do you think I could stay here for a while? Just until I find a job and get back on my feet. I don’t want to go back to Bridgeport. And I missed you.”
I hesitated, but then hated myself for it. This was Kami. I couldn’t just kick her out of here, expecting her to make it on her own. She was my friend.
We’d make it work somehow.
“Sure. I mean – that’s fine.”
Kami got to her feet, looking relieved.
“Thanks, Lu- Gabriel.” She cast an eye around the room, seemingly having not noticed the state of it before. “By the way… this place needs some serious work.”
I really hoped I wouldn’t live to regret this.
Of course, Kami being a woman, it was only polite that Jamie and I let her have the bed. Jamie and I had been taking it in turns to sleep on the bed, but it looked as though we’d both be in sleeping bags for the foreseeable future.
A bleary-eyed Jamie stumbled out of the bed when I went to rouse him, looking confused and dazed.
“What’s happening?” he mumbled, shielding his eyes from the light in the living area as we left the bedroom. “Who’s the lady? Where are we going?”
It was at times like these that I was reminded just how young Jamie really was.
“I’m sorry about this,” I muttered to Jamie when we were out of earshot of Kami. “Kami’s an old friend, and she has nowhere else to go.”
Jamie nodded after a moment, rubbing at his eyes sleepily.
Then, he asked softly, “Why was she calling you Lucas?”
A chill ran through me then. Jamie had obviously not been as asleep as I’d thought he’d been.
I opened my mouth to speak, but nothing came out. A sudden wave of bleakness came over me and I broke down in front of him, burying my face in my hands as I started to cry. It was all too much. Bridgeport. James Frank. Kami. Lucas. This stupid house.
“Gabe?” Jamie ventured softly after a moment. He was wide awake now, his eyes wide and startled.
I shook my head and wiped my eyes frustratedly on my sleeve.
“I’m all right, I just…” I broke off. “There’s a lot you don’t know about me, Jamie. I – I’m sorry.”
I swallowed, closing my eyes for a moment. I forgot sometimes that he knew about what had happened with James Frank, forgot sometimes that he knew that particular dark spot on my heart. But he didn’t know everything. Didn’t know what came before. Just allusions of my time with James, and nothing of my past.
“Lucas is my real name. I changed it after I ran away. After, well… you know.”
Jamie surprised me by flashing me an easy smile, though something – pain? – sparked to life briefly in his eyes.
“It’s okay,” he said. “You have your secrets. I have mine.”
I tried to quell the protectiveness that rose up in my chest at that. I hated that he had secrets from me, hated that I couldn’t save and help him.
I was a hypocrite.
He grinned at me, and it was genuine this time.
“One day we’ll have to trade secrets and dark pasts.” He grinned again. “You know, like girls do at sleepovers.”
“One day,” I agreed, but secretly I was relieved.
We both knew that ‘one day’ was a lie.
Kami had brought a sleeping bag with her, so, once I retrieved our one from the bedroom, both Jamie and I had something relatively comfortable to sleep in.
It was a long night.
For all of us.
I took Kami’s comments about the house needing serious work to heart.
The next day, when Jamie arrived home from school, we set about stripping the wallpaper. We had decided to start in the bedroom and work our way round the house.
As well as trying to help Kami settle in, I had another motive for finally starting to redecorate. I didn’t really have enough money to take Susie out for an expensive meal (that was what was expected, right?), but I thought inviting her round for some home-cooking (salad) would do just fine for a first date.
But I couldn’t invite her around whilst the house was still such a mess. That was the reason I hadn’t called her yet.
At least… that’s what I told myself.
We managed to pick up some cheap (rather tasteful, I thought) wallpaper for the bedroom. With Jamie’s help, putting the wallpaper up wasn’t actually that hard.
I mean, there were a few lumps and bumps, and it peeled slightly at the corners, but it was much better than it was before.
We also managed to get some cheap (and not so tasteful) wallpaper for the living room. It wasn’t exactly my first choice of colour, but the room looked a lot brighter once it was up.
And, as Jamie pointed out, it could have been a lot worse.
Balancing on one of the chairs, I also painted the ceiling with damp-proof paint. It was expensive (more expensive than I had been planning, anyway), but the man in the shop informed me that it would prevent mould and all manner of nasty things. Of course, that sold it for me. I hated mould.
Jamie also found an old sofa abandoned at the side of the road. It wasn’t exactly pleasing to look at and it sagged in places, but it was relatively clean and not mouldy. And, with three people living in the house, we really did need the extra seating.
Once the decorating was done, Jamie and I decided to really take the plunge and set to work scouring and scrubbing the bathroom. To our surprise, the tiles weren’t the sickly yellow I had believed they were. Some of them were actually white.
I shuddered to think that I had showered in that bathroom. I could have caught all sorts of horrible diseases. My toes could have dropped off. Worms could be living inside me right now!
Wait, calm down. Everything’s fine.
The house was slowly becoming a place fit for living in.
The day finally came where I couldn’t put off calling Susie any longer. She had called me on several occasions, but I’d told her that I was remodelling the house and was too busy to meet her for lunch or anything else.
But now the remodelling was done, and I had no excuse.
As I looked at the phone in my hand, I didn’t know what I was so scared of.
Was it that I could see myself spending the rest of my life with Susannah Moss? I was standing on the precipice, toes curled over the edge, waiting for the one breath that would make me fall.
And once I’d fallen in love, there was no going back. I would make the same mistakes as my father and my mother and we’d end up leaving a broken home.
But, unlike my father, a broken heart would not kill me.
I held my breath and, steeling myself, keyed in Susie’s number.
My breath left me in a rush at the sound of her voice.
“Hey,” I said. “Would you like to come over for lunch tomorrow?”
I spent the rest of the day gardening in a daze.
Susie had said yes. We were going to have a date. A lunch date it may have been (because of her work hours), but it was a date nonetheless!
And then, I panicked. I didn’t have a clue what to do on a date. I didn’t know what to wear, how to act, what I was supposed to say. It was a date, I couldn’t just wear my regular clothes and think that would be enough.
Especially as Susie had ended the phone call with, “Oh, I know the perfect dress.”
And so it was I waited in trepidation for Jamie to arrive home from school.
I wasn’t sure why I thought he would know what to wear any better than I did, but – at the very least – we’d work something out between the two of us. Kami would have just laughed at me and, besides… I didn’t want her to know about Susie. Not until I knew where we stood.
Susie and I, that is.
But… knowing where Kami and I stood would be nice too.
Jamie arrived home on time, as usual.
“Hey, Gabe,” he said, cautiously opening the broken gate – it had fallen off its hinges more than once. “What do you want for dinner? We can have salad with carrots or salad with peppers.” He grinned. “If we want to go crazy, we can have salad with both.”
He always teased me (in good humour) about my fear of ovens. Ah well, let him tease me all he wants. At least we wouldn’t blow up in our sleep.
“I don’t mind,” I told him, getting to my feet. “You decide.”
“All right,” he said, and turned to go back inside.
“Jamie, wait.” When he faced me again, I smiled and added, “I need a favour.”
Jamie’s face was suddenly wary.
“I need you to help me find something to wear for a date tomorrow.”
“You – you want my advice? On clothes?”
I couldn’t help but laugh.
“Don’t look so nervous, Jamie! I’m not going to eat you.”
I shook my head and stepped closer to him.
“I just… I figured having you to help me would be a better idea than trying to do this on my own. I have no idea what to do and this… this is important.”
Jamie looked up at me in silence and, in that moment, I would have given anything to know what he was thinking.
He must have seen the desperation in my eyes, however, because, after an agonising few seconds, he grinned.
“Okay. But we’re going to have some fun first.”
Well, if that didn’t sound ominous I don’t know what did.
When we got into the bedroom, Jamie made a beeline for the chest of drawers.
“Jamie, they’re Kami’s clothes.”
“I know,” he said, and tossed a garment at me. “Undress and put that on.”
I did as I was told.
“You know, this isn’t exactly what I had in mind…”
The tight red fabric of the mini-skirt was rather uncomfortable, clinging in all the wrong places and chafing against certain… areas. Not to mention the fact I had to take off my underwear in order to get the damn thing on.
“Oh, stop being such a spoilsport and put these on.”
“You do realise Kami will kill us if she comes home, right?” I muttered, teetering and wobbling in a pair of Kami’s high heels.
How did people stand up in these things? Let alone walk?
Jamie wasn’t listening to me. He was stood with his hands on his hips, surveying me as though I was a piece of art that wasn’t quite finished.
“There’s something missing,” he mused. A wide grin cracked his face. “Ah, I know.”
“Perfect!” Jamie said after a time, stepping back from me and putting the make up brush back in its bag.
Then, he promptly started laughing.
“Oh, you are so in for it, Jamie Kelly.”
I tottered over to him and snatched the make up bag with as much dignity as I could muster. Jamie was still laughing.
“Sit down and prepare to be Gabriel-fied.”
I have to admit, my efforts weren’t as… artistic as Jamie’s.
We spent the rest of the afternoon floating around the house and pulling stupid poses. It was probably just as well that Kami didn’t come home during that time.
It was even more just as well that we lived in the middle of nowhere. I didn’t want to become the crazy screaming cross-dressing guy on top of everything else.
I’d be the first to agree that we might have got a little too into it.
Despite the indignity, the lack of underwear and the death-trap high heels, I hadn’t had that much fun in years.
Jamie made sure that I was ready for Susie’s visit before he left for school the next morning. We found a clean (albeit slightly musty) shirt in the back of one of the drawers, and he forbade me from wearing my hat for the day. Then, showing a rather motherly side, he sat me down and combed my hair until it fell neatly on either side of my face.
When he had gone, I stared at the stranger in the mirror.
Maybe I could do this after all.
I was glad I had made the effort, as Susie arrived looking stunning.
She had clipped her long blonde hair back out of her face and the dress she had described as ‘perfect’ certainly was.
Looking at her took my breath away.
As I let her in, I backed into the house, holding a bouquet of roses I’d picked up for her from the market behind my back.
Something must have shown on my face (or perhaps I was just more obvious than I liked to believe), as Susie rested a hand on her hip and looked straight at me.
“Okay, Gabe. What are you up to?”
I flushed and pulled the flowers out from behind my back.
“I… I got you these. I hope you like them.”
For a moment, I was worried the expression of shock and joy would get stuck on Susie’s face forever.
After a moment, she took the bouquet from me and smiled.
“Thank you, Gabriel. They’re beautiful.”
“Not as beautiful as you,” I said without thinking, and then could have kicked myself.
I sound like such an idiot.
Susie laughed nervously, a blush painting her cheeks.
I set the bouquet up for her in a vase of water on the table, so they wouldn’t die during dinner or something. That would be kind of bad.
We sat together on the sofa and I cast around in my mind for a topic of conversation.
“So… how’s your band going?”
Susie laughed softly.
“You want to talk about work?”
“Well, it’s either that or I can tell you about all the different types of fertiliser.” I flushed and cleared my throat. “I’m sorry, I’m really nervous.”
“Don’t be nervous. This is just… us two. Talking. Like normal.”
“Except it’s a date.”
Susie shook her head.
“Don’t get so hung up on the labels. No wonder you’re nervous.” She smiled at me. “Just… relax.”
After a moment of silence, I said softly, “So… how is the band going?”
Susie laughed at that.
“All right, you win.” She twirled a strand of her hair around one slender finger, biting her lower lip; I couldn’t tear my eyes away. “It’s going okay, I guess. We play together well. Isaac’s just trying to get us a gig, but it’s a bit hard when you’re unsigned.” She laughed again. “Besides, Riverview isn’t exactly full of night life.”
I nodded, though in my head I couldn’t help comparing myself to Isaac. Maybe Susie would be better off with someone like him. Someone masculine and who knew what to do to get things done.
Compared to him… why would Susie want me?
Conversation moved onto other things after that. Susie told me about her family and I listened with interest without offering much in return.
Susie’s father, Seeley Moss, was a famous private investigator – or, at least, he had been before he went into an early retirement. He had been responsible for putting away the notorious criminal, Vincent Valentine Mason (who happened to be the father of two of the current presidential candidates, but that’s another story and not mine to tell). Though he didn’t like to be praised for that particular feat, Susie told me, so if I ever met him I should just keep quiet.
The prospect of meeting Susie’s father was so terrifying it didn’t bear thinking about.
Susie’s mother, Molly, was a famous author, but I’d actually never heard of her. I’d never really been much of a reader.
Susie also had an older brother, Jake, and a younger sister, Mia. When she found out I’d been an only child, she was sympathetic. Though she’d been jealous of her younger sister growing up, she wouldn’t have traded her siblings for the world.
“You must have been awfully lonely,” she told me.
“I didn’t know anything else,” I replied, truthfully.
But it had been lonely.
I wondered how different my life would have been if I’d had a brother or sister to take care of. Or to take care of me.
But I wasn’t lonely any more.
When we began to get hungry, I got up and went to retrieve the vegetables from the fridge. Susie moved to sit at the table so she could talk to me more easily.
She seemed amused at my lack of an oven, even more so than Jamie was.
“We really need to get some hot meals into you, Gabe. You’ll waste away otherwise.”
“That’s what Jamie says,” I said begrudgingly, as I started to cut up the lettuce.
Jamie had school dinners, so at least he had one good meal a day.
“Jamie’s a smart boy.”
“You won’t be complaining after you’ve tasted my salad,” I told her. “I’ve perfected the recipe.”
I turned and gave her a smile. She grinned back.
“Besides,” I added, turning back to the chopping board. “It ‘ll be even better when I can use my own home-grown vegetables.”
“I’m sure,” Susie said, but I could hear the smile in her voice.
“You know, this is actually pretty good,” Susie said, after she had taken her first mouthful.
I gave her a smug smile.
“Told you so.”
She pushed the colourful vegetables absently around on her plate.
“So… why don’t you have an oven?”
“Oh. That. It would explode in the night and kill us all.”
Susie hid a smile in her salad.
“You’re a strange man, Gabriel Nesaren. A very strange man.”
“Thanks… I think.”
Jamie arrived home from school as we sat chatting over our empty plates.
He looked startled for a moment, though seemed to quickly remember the whole ‘date’ thing. He relaxed visibly and gave Susie a shy wave. Then, giving me a little grin, he headed outside to sit at the bench and do his homework.
“That was Jamie?” Susie asked me, as I got up to clear away the plates.
I nodded with a smile.
“Yeah. He’s kind of quiet around new people, but he’s a great kid.”
“I’m going to go say ‘hi’ properly,” she said decisively, as she rose from her seat. “I’ll be back in a moment.”
As I washed up, I smiled as I listened to the sounds of Susie and Jamie outside. It seemed that they got along just fine.
Something within me relaxed at this realisation, a part of me I hadn’t even known had been tensed. The worry about Jamie and Susie meeting had come and gone without me even acknowledging it.
I figured that this was a good thing.
All too soon, it was time for Susie to leave and head to work.
“I had a great time, Gabriel,” she told me, pressing a kiss to my cheek as she wrapped her arms around me. “We have to do this again soon, okay?”
Without speaking, I moved and kissed her, pulling her close to me. My hand curled around the back of her neck and she melted against me, as if her body was made to fit against mine.
Seeing her again suddenly didn’t seem like a terrifying prospect at all.
Eventually, before I forgot how to breathe, I had to pull away. I ran trembling fingers through her hair, giving her a smile that felt suddenly false. She was so beautiful, so good.
What had I done to deserve someone like her?
Crushing the feeling and forcing it to the back of my mind, I gave Susie another soft kiss.
“I’d definitely like to do this again, Susannah Moss.”
Her smile was like a shard of a splintered sun.
Wonderful, glowing… but ultimately dangerous.
I had fallen in love.