A/N: This is a long chapter, so grab a snack and a cup of tea and settle down comfortably. :) Be warned, there’s a small bit of ADULT CONTENT near the beginning.
This is dedicated to Mama Bear. :D
Though I’d not yet being able to grow anything remotely harvestable, my plants were thriving. Some of the tomato plants had actually borne tiny green fruit, but overnight they had been eaten by some animal or another. I knew that I would have to get the fence fixed soon if I was ever going to sell anything at all, but to fix the fence I actually needed to sell some vegetables. It was a bit of a dilemma.
I guess I would just have to hope for the best.
Hopefully, the promising looking lettuces wouldn’t be as tempting as my fledgling tomatoes were to the enterprising wildlife of Riverview.
I started at the voice, and turned to see Susie standing by the mailbox and waving enthusiastically. Smiling, I waved back, hoping belatedly that it didn’t seem as though I was threatening her with my trowel.
“I thought we could have breakfast together!” she called across the lawn. “I bought croissants!”
I laughed at that. Susie and I had been dating properly for about a month now, and she did everything in her power to make sure that – every day – I ate something that wasn’t salad.
I was about to shout back that breakfast sounded fun when Kami appeared.
And she didn’t look happy.
“What are you doing here?” she demanded, striding up to Susie with eyes that flashed. “This isn’t some house for waifs and strays, you know.”
It was then that I remembered I had never mentioned to Kami that Susie and I were dating, or even that I had a girlfriend. Oops. It was just as well I’d told Susie about Kami on one of our dates, otherwise the situation could have become really awkward.
Susie put her hands on her hips, staring Kami down.
“Excuse me? Last I heard, you were the waif that came barging in here looking for a place to stay.”
“That’s different, Gabriel is my -”
“How is it different?” Susie broke in, before Kami could reveal exactly what I was. “You came here and demanded a room, forcing both those boys to sleep on the floor night after night. I’m only here for breakfast.”
“What the hell would you know about anything, you tarty country bumpkin! You don’t even know the first thing about me and Gabriel! You don’t know him like I do!”
“I know a hell of a lot more than you think, you, er – city trash!”
“You know nothing, stupid slut!”
It was about at this point of the argument that I vaulted the fence with the intention of putting a stop to it.
Well, I say vaulted.
It was more of an awkward climb, and my hoodie got stuck on one of the broken fence posts. And I might possibly have fallen hard on my butt. Maybe. I was never going to be a champion at hurdles, at any rate.
But you’re probably more interested in the fight. I didn’t hear much more of what was said after that particular venomous barb, as I was trying to free myself from the fence. But… what I did hear led me to believe that the fight was about me, which confused me.
What had I done to make them both so angry?
By the time I’d scrambled to my feet, Kami had moved and slapped Susie hard around the face. Susie stumbled back as though she was about to fall over, but managed to regain her balance.
Anger rose within my chest at the sight. No one was allowed to hit my Susie. No one.
Enough was enough.
I approached and they broke off screaming at each other to stare at me – maybe they had forgotten I was there?
“Kami,” I said, with as much courage as I could muster. “I let you stay in my house and do pretty much what you want, but I won’t stand for you hitting my girlfriend.”
Kami’s eyes narrowed, but she didn’t speak. It looked as though she was struggling to hold back tears. I had been rather blunt, I admit.
Then, abruptly, she turned on her heel and ran back into the house. I stared after her, rather bewildered.
“I don’t think I should stay for breakfast,” Susie said quietly, snapping my attention back to her. “I’ve caused enough problems for one morning.”
“Don’t say that,” I said, and reached for her, but she backed away.
Her hands flew up as though she was shielding herself.
“Don’t, Gabe. Just don’t.”
My heart sank.
“What did she say to you, Susie?”
Susie shook her head.
“I know she’s your friend, Gabe, but it seems to me that she has the entirely wrong idea. And I’m not coming around here again until she’s gone.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Gabe,” Susie said quietly, before she turned and strode purposefully away.
I watched her go, feeling as though I’d swallowed a lead weight.
Why did women have to be so complicated?
I went back into the house with the intention of giving Kami a piece of my mind.
It seemed, however, that she had exactly same idea.
“What the hell was that, Lucas?”
“Gabriel,” I corrected automatically, and blinked at her. “What the hell was what?”
“That – that woman! I thought you loved me!”
I stared at her, the pieces slowly falling into place in my mind.
“What?” I said. “No, no – I mean, I did, but I moved on, Kami. I moved on because you were happy with Mike, and I met Susie.”
“That’s total bullshit!” she snapped. “Don’t you think I saw how you looked at me that first night, Gabriel? Like you wanted to take me right then and there. And don’t you dare fucking deny it,” she added, when I opened my mouth to speak. “We both know I’m right.”
I swallowed, trying to form a coherent response through my shock.
“Okay, I admit I still had feelings for you then, but we’re too different, Kami. You don’t want to be stuck in this small town forever. And I love Susannah.”
“You’re a total bloody pig, Lucas,” Kami sniffed, tears threatening to spill from her eyes.
On impulse, I moved and wrapped my arms around her. She stiffened in my grip for a moment, before relaxing and pressing her face into my neck.
“I hate you,” she whispered. “I hate you and – and I love you. I thought – I thought I had a chance of happiness with you, Luc.”
“I’m sorry,” I told her softly, closing my eyes against the ache in my heart. “But I’m not Lucas any more. That life is over.”
Kami pulled away after a moment, all trace of tears gone. She walked with purpose to the mirror, quietly brushing her hair with her fingers.
“I found a job at the bistro,” she told me quietly. “I meant to say last night, but you were already asleep.”
I moved and sat on the bed, hugging my knees.
“Well… that’s good, right?”
Kami ignored me and I bit my tongue.
“One of my new co-workers is looking for a room mate. Her old one’s just moved to Twinbrook, and she offered me a viewing of the place.”
I shifted uncomfortably.
“You know, you don’t have to move out, Kami. I wasn’t saying that -”
She cut me off, the words spat out with deadly accuracy.
“I know when I’m not wanted. You don’t have to say anything.” She sighed and looked at me. “I’m going to take her up on her offer.”
I sighed and flopped back on the bed, not sure what to say to that. I felt as though I had failed as a friend, though I wasn’t sure what I could have done differently. I loved Susannah, and my feelings for Kami had been fading with each passing day.
She was a good friend to me, but I knew that she could never be anything more.
I think she knew that too.
“I just… I don’t get it, Lucas.”
I shifted on the bed, saying, “Don’t get what?”
She turned to look at me again, anger and pain at war on her face.
“You never once told me that you had a girlfriend. Why would you even hide something like that?”
I had no answer to that – why had I hidden Susie’s existence from Kami for so long? What was I afraid of?
“I don’t know.”
The words came out as a whisper, and Kami’s face changed. Now, she only looked sad.
My breath caught as she climbed on top of me, straddling one of my legs and pressing it between the warmth of her thighs.
“We’d be good together, Lucas,” she murmured, as I stared at her in mute surprise. “If you’d only give me a chance.”
I looked up and met her eyes.
“Kami, I can’t – please, get off me.” My protest sounded weaker than I would have liked. “I mean it.”
I tried to sit up, but Kami’s fingers deftly unzipped my trousers.
“What are you -”
My question was cut off by a hurriedly strangled moan as her palm pressed firmly against me. Stupidly, I could only think about the fact that Jamie was still in the house. Kami’s hand moved and my breath quickened as she stroked me through the suddenly too-tight fabric of my boxers.
“Mm, you gotta stop, Kami,” I mumbled, my words slurring together as they reluctantly left my mouth.
But she didn’t stop, and her hand slid into my underwear, fingers caressing my skin and drawing a gasp from my lips. For a moment, I didn’t want her to stop. I wanted to give in and let her continue, to make me feel and forget everything else. I wanted to bury myself in the heat of her and fuck what the rest of the world thought.
And then I thought of Susie and how she tasted of sunshine.
“Stop,” I said more forcefully, gripping Kami’s wrists and pushing her hands away.
This time, she listened.
Kami stood up, eyeing me with clear distaste.
“You don’t know what you want, do you, Lucas?”
I shook my head, but I couldn’t look up. I couldn’t meet her eyes.
“I know I want Susie, and I know that’s not going to change.”
Kami turned away, tears rolling down her cheeks, and I felt my stomach clench with guilt.
I watched her go, feeling cold and guilty. I hated what I’d said to her (even though it was the truth), but I couldn’t let my relationship with Susie be ruined. Sure, I was as scared as hell of one day being left hurt and lonely, but the feeling of being in love was worth it. Like the feeling of being submerged in a warm bath before having to get out, out into the inevitably freezing bathroom.
The front door slammed and I flinched.
Maybe this is where my parents went wrong.
Evening found me by the pond in my garden, fishing. I had spent most of the day floating around the house in a daze, drifting from room to room and moping. I pined for Susie and Kami in turn, as though some heavy pendulum of guilt had taken up residence in my heart.
Jamie had left me to sulk all afternoon, but, as the sun began to set, he came outside.
“You know, dinner’s going to get cold,” he said, and his lips twitched in a smile.
Salad doesn’t get cold.
“I’m not hungry,” I said. I knew that I was being ridiculous, but I didn’t care. I felt weary and sick at heart. “I’m sorry, Jamie. I just need to be alone for a while.”
Without speaking, Jamie turned and ran back into the house.
He reappeared after a little while with the spare fishing rod.
“You know,” he said, as he cast out his line over the pond. “Misery loves company.”
“Is that right?” I said begrudgingly, but, really, I was glad he had come back.
And Jamie knew it.
“Are there actually any fish in this pond?” he asked, after a stretch of silence.
“I don’t know. I thought I saw an alligator once, though.”
I’m not a religious man, but I thanked God every day for Jamie.
“We should probably go in soon,” I said, as the sun dipped behind the horizon.
It was getting cold now, and neither of us had managed to get a single bite. It looked as thought there were no fish after all.
“Besides,” I added. “You said something about dinner…”
My stomach growled in agreement, and Jamie laughed.
“Hungry now, are you?”
Jamie laughed again and dropped his fishing rod on the ground, before leaping on my back. His legs wrapped themselves firmly around my waist.
“You can carry me in. As punishment for sulking.”
“You’re such a pain, Jamie.”
I really didn’t know what I’d do without him.
Thankfully, Susie put her argument with Kami behind her and forgave me for whatever I’d done wrong. She began to come around almost every day again, and my days felt like they had purpose.
It was as though that whole incident had never happened, and every day I found myself falling further and further in love.
“I’ve been thinking,” Susie said one day. “About you and Jamie.”
This confused me. A lot of things confused me when it came to Susie.
“What about me and Jamie?”
“Well, I have some money put aside and… well, I think it’s about time Jamie got his own room. Don’t you?”
I stared at her.
“I think both of you have had just about enough of sleeping on the floor, am I right? Besides, I’ve been saving this money for a rainy day and well, I think we’re going somewhere, don’t you, Gabe? We need to start thinking about the future.”
Squashing the faint flutterings of panic in my chest (they had stirred at the mention of a ‘future’), I moved and kissed Susie gently on the lips.
“I love you, Susie.”
It was the first time I’d said the words aloud. Susie’s eyes widened in surprise and colour flooded to her cheeks and I felt at that moment that my confession was entirely worth it.
Unexpectedly, she then leapt up into my arms. I just about managed to catch her and – luckily – did not drop her. I don’t think I would have been very popular if I had.
She moved to kiss me again and I was suddenly overcome with the overwhelming urge to clean my teeth. What if my breath smelled bad? What if there were bacteria on my teeth and I infected Susie and she died?!
“Um, do you mind if I go and clean my teeth quickly?”
She pulled back, eyes narrowing.
“Are you saying my breath smells?”
“What?! No, I -“
“Right, that’s it, Gabe. I challenge you to a pillow fight.”
Grabbing a couple of pillows, Susie stalked outside, though I caught a glimpse of a smile on her face. Warily, I followed and, as soon as I was in range, she turned and started beating me with the pillow.
“This! Will! Teach! You!” she said, punctuating each word with a thwack.
I grabbed the other pillow to defend myself with.
“I didn’t mean it like that!” I protested, but Susie laughed and smacked me around the head again with her pillow.
“Wait, wait, I need to recover.”
“Hahaha, I can’t believe you fell for that.”
“No! I’m sorry! Don’t hurt me!”
Needless to say, Susie won.
The next week, Jamie’s class had a week’s field trip to Sunset Valley to learn about the beach’s eco system, and Susie thought it would be the perfect time to build and decorate Jamie’s new room. This way, it could be a surprise for when he came back.
I wasn’t trusted to help with the building work (especially after I annoyed the builders by triple checking everything was safe and secure), so Susie sent me with some money down to the local consignment store in search of furniture.
It was a big place, and I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for, so I approached the man at the till, hoping he could help me out. Unfortunately, he seemed much more interested in checking out a couple of teenage girls that had wandered into the shop than listening to me.
Eventually I called Susie and she came to help me out.
Susie chose this brightly coloured painting to hang up in the living area. She really seemed to like it, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that they looked like rainbow eyeballs. I didn’t have the heart to tell her it creeped me out, though I made a point of scuttling through the living room as quickly as possible.
I hated being watched.
Jamie’s room was finished with time to spare. It was a bit sparse, but done in bright blue with a desk for him to do his homework on. There was still enough space in the bedroom for more furniture when we could afford it, but this would have to do for now.
I hoped that Jamie would like what we had done.
As a finishing touch, I had found a music box in the consignment store and insisted on buying it for him, though Susie wasn’t sure why he would want a music box with a mummy in it.
Susie was also insistent on shuffling my room around, even going so far as to purchase a double bed. She said it would come in handy if she ever decided to stay the night.
I got rather flustered at that, but she pretended not to notice.
As it turned out, Susie stayed the night several times that week, but nothing came of it. Well, nothing sexual at least. We both had decided that we wanted to wait until marriage before we took that final step. Besides, both of us agreed that we wanted that stability (what little marriage offered, anyway) before we did anything that could possibly result in children.
Even though having children was a completely weird idea. Not to mention the idea of marriage. A year ago, the thought never would have even crossed my mind.
It got to the point when it was weird not to have Susie there. Whether she was giving me random hugs when I came in all sweaty and dirty from the garden (I know, I was surprised the first time too) or whether she was just off in her own world, strumming away on her guitar, I grew used to her.
Perhaps ‘forever’ was not such a scary idea after all?
The week without Jamie seemed to stretch on and on, but eventually he came home.
He was obviously excited to tell us all about what had gone on during his field trip, but Susie and I patiently deflected his chatter and chivvied him towards his new room.
There was a rather stunned silence as he took in what we had done.
“Omigosh! This is totally amazing!”
“Thank you, thank you, thank you!” he babbled, coming and hugging us each tightly in turn.
I couldn’t help but smile, and Susie grinned at me. We had achieved our goal and made Jamie happy, at least for a little while.
“I love you guys!”
Yes, he was happy all right, and it made me happy to see him like that.
Unfortunately, Jamie had a mountain of homework from the field trip, which made his mood falter a bit, but at least he had a nice room to do it in now.
To celebrate Jamie’s return, Susie insisted on cooking us dinner. She even agreed to make salad, though (as she pointed out) she really didn’t have much choice about that. I sat and chatted to her whilst she chopped vegetables, unable to tear my eyes away from her.
It was just so domestic and she was so beautiful.
I felt my heart soar watching her.
We sat down to dinner together and, for the first time in a long while, I felt complete.
I had a family.
I was home.
Soon after the field trip to Sunset Valley, much to my amazement and joy, Jamie began to bring friends home after school. The friend he brought home most often was a girl named Jenna.
When I questioned him about her, he blushed a brilliant red and mumbled something about her tutoring him in science.
Thinking back to the last time I tried to help Jamie with science homework, this seemed like a very sensible idea.
“Jamie, didn’t you listen to anything Miss Deeds said about electrons?”
“Er… they’re small?”
Yep, a very sensible idea indeed.
Even though Jenna rolled her eyes at Jamie’s lack of scientific knowledge, the two of them quickly became close friends. It was not an uncommon sight to see them working together on their homework in the living area, laughing and chatting about different students and teachers at the school.
Sometimes, if I was lucky, I’d catch a glimpse of Jamie’s secret smile. The one he seemed to reserve just for her.
Though it was not always sunshine and rainbows as far as Jamie was concerned. Often, late at night, I would hear him sobbing quietly in his room. It was at those moments that I felt the most lost. Though I’d read his story and cried for him, he had never shown any sign of wanting to talk about any of it.
I hoped one day he would be able to talk to someone out loud about what happened, even if that someone was not me.
It was on nights like those that I held Susie close, feeling cold and frightened. Thinking about Jamie inevitably led me to think about myself, and that inevitably led me to thinking about everything I hadn’t told Susie.
What would she think of me when she found out the truth? Should I tell her and get it over with?
No, I would think. Better to keep it hidden and never let her find out.
And so another night would pass with Susie left in blissful ignorance and with me holding her, anxious and sleepless.
Most of the time, however, I didn’t think about it. I knew that I was living a lie and I justified my silence with the belief that I was protecting Susie. After all, if she didn’t hate me and give me over to the police straight away, she would have to spend the rest of her life lying for me.
And I couldn’t do that to her.
No, I had to protect her.
I couldn’t – wouldn’t – admit to myself that it was the fear of losing her that stilled my tongue above all else.
Meanwhile, the war in my head was often overshadowed by a bigger problem – my war against the house. Or rather, its war against me.
“Aaaaah! We’re all going to drown! Run, run for the hills!”
“Oh, calm down, you big baby,” Susie told me, pushing past me armed with a spanner. “Watch how the ‘man of the house’ deals with it.”
God, I loved that woman.
“So, Mr Nesaren. Why do you think you have what it takes to marry my daughter?”
“Er, Jamie… why are you speaking in that horribly gruff voice?”
“I’m preparing you for the worst.”
“Oh, all right… Um, hi, Mr Moss. I’m Gabriel.”
That’s right, I had finally decided to ask Susie to marry me.
Jamie, in his infinite wisdom, had decreed that we needed to practice my first meeting with her father.
The trouble was, neither of us had a clue what Mr Seeley Moss was actually like.
So, Jamie improvised.
“Sounds like a girls’ name.”
“Um, sir, I can assure you I’m more than enough man for – I mean -“
Jamie started sniggering.
“Way to put your foot in it, Gabe.”
“Oh, shut up, Mr Moss.”
“Oh! I know! He might be an alcoholic!”
Jamie jumped up and ran outside to find an old discarded wine bottle, and then came back.
“Okay, pretend I have a beer belly.”
Jamie put the deep, utterly terrifying gruff voice back on and said, “Do go on.”
“Well, Mr Moss, uh – can I call you Seeley? Well, I want to marry your daughter and -“
“No,” Jamie said firmly, cutting me off.
Jamie leant forward, his voice rough and deadly serious.
“Because I want you for myself.”
I quite literally choked on my own spit.
“But – what?!”
“I’m just trying to prepare you for the unexpected,” Jamie said, his face perfectly sober. “As I said.”
He looked up at me then, placing the wine bottle on the floor with a loud clunk.
“Seriously, though, Gabe… be yourself, and you’ll be fine. I don’t think Mr Moss could hate you if he tried. Unless… you know… he’s like… I don’t know. A terrifying mountain bear man who wants to carry you off to his cave.”
“Thanks, I guess…”
I sighed and moved to sit down on the sofa.
“I don’t know… I don’t know if Susie’s even going to say ‘yes’, yet.”
“Yeah, I’m not helping you practice proposing. That would be slightly too weird.”
I grinned at him.
“Ah, so you do have a line you won’t cross.”
Jamie sighed rather wistfully.
“All this talk of proposing makes me think of Jenna.”
“Hm, I knew you had a thing for her.”
“I don’t think she likes me that way. She seems quite happy just being friends.”
“Have you told her how you feel?”
“I think about it sometimes, but… I don’t want to lose her as a friend. That would hurt more than her rejecting me, I think. I don’t know… I just think all the time about kissing her, and taking her for walks down by the river… and her skin looks so soft. Sometimes I just stare at her at school and don’t pay attention in class…”
He went scarlet as he suddenly remembered that he wasn’t alone.
“I mean, er…”
“It sounds like you’re in love,” I told him bluntly, although I wasn’t exactly the most knowledgeable person on that particular subject.
Jamie smiled at that, though his cheeks were still stained red.
“I might be.”
Then, he shook his head and abruptly changed the subject.
“So, have you decided where you’re going to propose to her?”
“I don’t know,” I replied, suddenly feeling out of my depth. “I was hoping you would have some ideas.”
“That’s something you have to figure out on your own, Gabe. It’s your special moment, not mine.” He grinned. “I already know exactly where I’m going to propose to Jenna.”
I blinked at him.
“You’re getting a bit ahead of yourself, aren’t you?”
“Well… yes, but if it happens… I know where I’m going to do it.”
I turned the conversation back to the matter at hand.
“Yes, okay… but how do I know where the best place to do it is?”
Jamie smiled at me.
“I think you just… know.”
Despite myself, I found myself smiling back.
Thinking about it, I think I know the perfect place.
I know you’re probably really excited to hear about how my proposal to Susie went and – in fact – I was planning on writing in here the next time after I’d actually proposed, but Jamie’s as much a part of my story as I am and I just witnessed an intriguing scene between him and Jenna that I just had to note down before I forget. That was a really long sentence.
(I hope he doesn’t still read this… Jamie, if you are reading this, kindly skip the next few pages.)
(Aw, crap, if you are reading this, then you know about that thing with Kami… that’s awkward…)
This evening, Jenna stayed later than usual and it was dark out. Jamie offered to walk her home, being the nice boy that he is, but she declined, opting instead to phone her mum to come and pick her up.
Whilst they waited for Jenna’s lift, the two of them decided to watch the stars together.
I will admit to spying on them through the kitchen window. I felt rather like a mother watching over one of her brood, so that was okay. I think.
I couldn’t help but notice that Jamie’s attention was more focused on Jenna than the stars. He really is rather obvious, but I don’t think Jenna noticed. At all.
Actually, it was a little amusing to watch, though I did want to shout to Jamie to just tell her already.
The closest he got to confessing was resting his hand briefly on top of hers, though he withdrew it pretty quickly and pretended that it was an accident. Jenna looked rather surprised, I must admit.
It’s kind of a shame that Jamie can’t gather the courage to tell Jenna how he feels about her, though I understand where he’s coming from. It’s taken him so long to make friends that he doesn’t want to ruin that with a misplaced word or a misread emotion.
But who knows what the future will hold?
After much deliberation, I decided that the place I wanted to propose was Lost Willow Park. I had thought about the gazebo in town, where we had first met, but the park held a lot more significance in my mind. It was the place I had stayed when I had first arrived in Riverview. It was the place I had first told someone the truth about what had happened with James Frank.
And now, it would be the place where Susie either made me the happiest man on earth… or crushed my heart.
“You know, Gabe,” Susie said, stroking my arm and laughing. “There must be a reason you brought me here today. It’s not often I see you without your hat.”
This was it.
Swallowing hard, I took Susie’s hand and slowly got down on one knee. She stared at me and I watched the emotions swirl over her face as she slowly understood what exactly it was that I was doing.
“Well, Susannah Moss…”
I pulled the ring box out of my pocket, shaking with nerves and taking care not to drop it. That would look really stupid, and I didn’t want to look stupid in front of Susie. Not today.
This was definitely it.
I was really going to do this.
No going back.
“Will you marry me?”
There was a moment of shocked silence, before Susie burst out, “Yes, yes! A thousand times yes!”
Trembling, I slid the ring onto her finger and gently kissed the back of her hand.
Then, I stood and pulled her into a gentle kiss. I actually felt as though I was going to pass out, so I concentrated on Susie and my lips on hers, and the way my fingers tangled in her golden hair.
Whilst I was busy proposing, ants invaded our picnic. I stared in horror at the ruined meal for a long moment, before Susie started to laugh.
Nervously, slowly realising that she didn’t suddenly hate me forever for the bug invasion, I started to laugh as well.
After all, nothing at all could ruin such a perfect day.